The Hollow Log Lounge

The Hollow Log Lounge is a collection of poems written by R. T. Smith and published in 2003 by the University of Illinois Press.

Some collections of poetry are held together by a common theme or a common voice. This collection is incredibly interesting, as it is held together by a common setting. The Hollow Log Lounge is a bar somewhere in Alabama where the country music provides the soundtrack for these poem-monologues. Smith has a remarkable ability to make a poem funny, poignant, and still work as a realistic monologue.

Most of the poems have a definite comic undertone:

“God bless Mr. Daniels’s distillery!
See that gal in the translucent blouse?
If she steps between your eyes and the light,
you’ll discover what sight was made for.”

Other poems, such as “Tull Jackson’s Slow Confession” carry a semi tragic quality, commenting on his wife’s lamentable knack to be sucked into religious scams due to her inability to have children and the fear that she’s somehow done something wrong in the eyes of God.

The dialogue throughout the collection is set in a distinct dialect. Lofty language is not abandoned, but altered through Southern vernacular. The poems seem more true and more natural this way; Smith has a knack for capturing a character’s mindset and personality through their language alone. This can most clearly be seen in one of my favorite poems in the collection, “A Putative Country Star Rebukes His Exit Escort.” It begins:

“You has-been jock, Ill tell you this for free:
my voice is golden, platinum, honey.
I put this state on the map. I’ll be as noisy
as I like.”

and ends:

“No thickwit bouncer can treat me like this.
Remember me next time you hear “Christmas
in Dixie.” Yeah, I wrote that. Kiss my ass.”

This poem does not claim to make any statement about the Lounge, no social commentary, no groundbreaking revelations. However, it is incredibly successful at creating a character and a situation, as well as making me laugh. That’s enjoyable, and that’s certainly commendable.

The collection changes drastically with the last poem “The End: Sam Buckhannon’s Lament as Told to Pattie Holcey.” It laments the apparent destruction of the Hollow Long Lounge as it became a disco.

“Can’t bring back what’s dead or stop the will
of progress, but I miss Hank on the jukebox
as glasses clinked and cigarette smoke curled
like blue magic, the lazy fan, the lazier clock.”

The collection becomes a reflection of an earlier time instead of an ongoing present one. Looking back on the book, it feels as though one has just read the obituary of a good friend. Despite the feeling of loss at the end, the entire collection was incredibly enjoyable. It comes highly recommended.