A new book featuring the unpublished poetry of Johnny Cash is published 13 years after his death

By Johnny Dodd
November 15, 2016 11:15 AM
Johnny Cash - News
Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty

Johnny Cash was one of America’s “greatest poets,” according to troubadour turned Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, but he was also something a pack rat, his son John Carter Cash tells PEOPLE.

Which is a good thing for fans of the Man in Black, whose genre-spanning songs made him one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the 20th century.

This week, a collection of Cash’s poetry – Forever Words: The Unknown Poems – which his son discovered amongst his father’s massive stash of hand-written notes and papers, will hit bookstores.

“He never really threw anything away,” the younger Cash says of his iconic dad, who died in 2003, four months after the death of his wife, June Carter Cash. “Most of this was stored away in desk drawers in his office and filing cabinets in a storage room.”

Of the 200 or so poems and song lyrics that Cash found at his parent’s home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, “a good number were beautiful and complete.” Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Princeton professor Paul Muldoon helped Cash cull through the collection to find the 41 pieces of writing – written over the course of Johnny’s life — that appear in the book.

Cash believes his father, who penned such hits like “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire” and won a staggering 19 Grammy Awards, would support his decision to release the writings.

“My father was a diverse character,” says Cash, 46, a singer-songwriter and music producer. “There’s a great mystery there, but there are many aspects of my father that were simple, true and easy to understand. I believe this book touches on those very aspects of his character and provides a deeper understanding of the man. I think he’d be happy with the material we released.”

One particular piece of writing that stands out for Cash is his father’s eight-line poem, “Forever:”

You tell me that I must perish / Like the flowers that I cherish / Nothing remaining of my name / Nothing remembered of my fame / But the trees that I planted / Still are young / The songs I sang / Will still be sung

“He wrote that at the very end of his life, two months before he passed away,” explains Cash. “It’s very short, but it’s also profound — a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t define who my father was, but offers a glimpse of him that many people haven’t seen before.”