Poetry Woman: Phoebe Snow

Phoebe Snow

Phoebe Snow passed away today.  She was a bluesy jazz singer and songwriter. I met her in Portland, Oregon late one night in 1977. I had stopped at the downtown Holiday Inn to grab a cup of coffee after a class at Portland State University where I was taking a special education class. I was on my way home two hours north on I-5.

I arrived at the cafe too late and the drowsy waitress told me I could get a cup of joe in the bar. I followed the scent of stale cigarette smoke.

The bar was empty except for a single woman sitting in the corner with a spotlight on her and a guitar in her lap. I went behind the bar and pured myself a cup  of black fuel for the road. She was a thick woman with a short haircut and a smile that seemed to come from within. I sat near her hoping to hear a melody to inspire my travel home.

In a voice that was gentle and inviting she asked what I would like to hear. Her fingers began to move across the steel strings not quite touching them.

“Hey Jude” I mumbled. Without stopping for a beat she closed her eyes and like a mother holding a baby she began to sing. Pure, simple, soulful.  I wasn’t stunned or knocked over. I was deeply touched by this motherly sound.

When she finished we began talking. She told me of her daughter. The grief was balanced be devotion and love. She told me how her daughter was disabled and required fulltime care. She suffered from a condition of hydrocephalis. I had some experience with these children as I was working with special children at the time. Also my brother has Downs Syndrome. I could sympathize with the lifelong chore she had ahead of her.

I must admit I was only vaguely aware of her fame. She was far away from home on the road with an infant daughter. I could tell she longed to be home in the New York area taking care of her daughter in an environment where she could give her complete devotion and love.

I spent an hour with her and was profoundly touched by her large spirit. Only at the end did she tell me her name. Even then I did not make a connection to her relatively recent hit song. I got up to go and she asked if she could sing one more song. She played Poetry Man.

Talk to me some more
You don’t have to go
You’re the Poetry Man
You make things all right
Ooooo, ya, ya, ya, ya
Ooooo, ya

So once again
It’s time to say so long
And so recall the call of life, la, la, la
You’re going home now
Home’s that place somewhere you go each day
To see your wife, ya, ya, ya
To see your wife
Wooo, oooh

Talk to me some more
You don’t have to go
You’re the Poetry Man
You make things all right, ya
Wooo, oooh

Phoebe suffered a stroke last year. Her body finally gave up probably from years of work caring for her daughter who died in 2007 at age 31. Rest in Peace my dear!

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About daleinchina

Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences.
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