I was talking about Chuck Berry’s poetry recently to someone recently, who laughed and asked, “Poetry? Really?”
For those of who associate 50’s poetry solely with the Beat poets like Ginsberg and Ferlingetti, I say, open your mind. No one supasses Chuck for the poetry of sexual, political and racial freedom. If ever there was a man, to quote Bob Dylan, who “danced beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,” it was Chuck. He bolted through life with his eyes wide open, expecting to be cheated (as he often was), daring the authorities to stop him from living his life as a free man. He paid the price with three prison terms, none of which broke him. Like O’Henry, he wasn’t the first poet to make mistakes. A great humorist, story teller and poet of the open road in the tradition of Mark Twain, Robert Service and Jack Kerouac, Chuck served his poetry straight-up.
Before reading Chuck’s lyrics as poetry, I suggest you put away your prejudices – all of them – and see the film Hail! Hail! Rock & Roll. Then read Chuck Berry: The Autobiography, do so as soon as possible.