Speaking to us from Oregon while on tour, Clarence Greenwood (better known as Citizen Cope) has a lot on his mind. From modest upbringings in rural Texas to personal tragedy and making it in the music industry, Citizen Cope’s life can only be described through his own poetry and songwriting (the two should be considered mutually exclusive). In honor of National Poetry Month, The 10,000 delves into the life and lyrics of one of America’s great contemporary poets.
How did you first get involved with poetry and songwriting?
My mother would have me memorize poems in exchange for giving me permission to do something I wanted to do… . There was this poem by Robert Lewis Stephenson called “The Land of Counterpane” which I loved. I also remember loving Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled.” But when I was 18, my great uncle who was like a father figure to me passed away, which spurred poetry. It just came out of me, elusive and mysterious – it was an especially hard loss for me, also because his passing brought up a lot of other stuff. So when I started writing poems after his funeral I was surprised, because the words seemed to flow so freely. It was automatic – I just couldn’t stop writing. Eventually I realized I had something I was good at, which was a great revelation for me considering I wasn’t a good student and didn’t test well. Sure I played guitar, but I didn’t have anything I felt particularly good at or passionate about, so when I had that experience with poetry, it stuck.