Little-Known Arkansas Poet

john-allen-adams-poetryI worked in John Allen Adams’ bookstore while a student at Henderson State University. John was a remarkable man. He was quadriplegic from a high school football injury, but he built his own business and was a central figure of learning in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Dr. Charles Hughes has written his story in a wonderful book, A Fortune Teller’s Blessing.

I have a copy of John’s book of poems, I Walk Toward the Sound of My Days, first published in 1979. Dr. Hughes was instrumental in making this book available again. In rereading his poems, I’m struck by their continued relevance and timeless quality. Below is one poem that captures what motivates me to occasionally escape the frantic trappings of society and “give equal time to joy.”

Ten O’Clock News
by John Allen Adams

Must I keep tuned to the world’s ill?
Who condemned me to watch
the ten o’clock news for sixty years?
I know, I know – the world’s close-knit,
and a heart must be more than four fingers wide
to pump what the world needs;
but still, should I feel truant for a holiday?

What if I push the button and clamor
no longer rings through these vaults;
and then in the silence
still, small voices come healing the spirit –
cicadas, and crickets, and mockingbirds?
The mockingbird singing in a summer night –
this draft of joy would cheer even a Saul!

Tomorrow and tomorrow I shall be prompt,
tuned to the latest news;
but tonight I give equal time to joy.

John Allen Adams died in 1984, but his words live on and continue to bless my life. His grave marker inscription summarizes his life well with the words, “A BOOKSELLER AND POET.”


John Allen Adams gave me a cassette tape of some of his poetry. Breathing was a struggle for him so he made this tape to use when he spoke to school groups.

Ten O’Clock News read by John Allen Adams

12 thoughts on “Little-Known Arkansas Poet

  1. Thank you Jim for your tribute to our late friend the Arkansas poet, John Allen Adams. The poem you include in your appreciation, “Ten O’Clock News,” is in tune with the spirit of Ozark Mountain Hiker. The photograph on the cover of his book, “I Walk Toward the Sound of My Days,” was taken at the top of Desoto Bluff in Arkadelphia, a favorite haunt of some of John Allen’s teenaged friends who belonged to the Greatest Generation. Below the bluff is the Ouachita River a favorite fishing and swimming destination for local boys during the Great Depression. (John Allen’s biography and book of poems are available on Amazon with all proceeds going to the John Allen Adams Scholarship at Arkadelphia High.)

  2. Jim, I also worked for John Allen while going to Ouachita, ’64-’68. John Allen was, and is, a major influence in my life. You and I met and visited at the last BPA get together at Shady Lake. We’ll have a John Allen fest next time we see each other!

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  5. Hi. It’s a rainy day in New Jersey during the Coronavirus lockdown. With little to do so I decided to look up one of my favorite workplaces of my life, Adams Bookstore. I worked there during some of my college years, 1973-74 to the best of my memory. Like you, John Allen Adams was a mentor and what he instilled in me is still there. The way I look at the world and the people in it without bias. One of my most vivid memories of him is he sitting at his desk with a Bic pen with an eraser on the end held on to his hand with a rubber band, typing anti-war letters to the Arkansas Gazette. One slow letter at a time to form one word. I’ll always be thankful for the time I spent with him and that wonderful cozy store. There was his wonderful wife Joy, the not so delightful Aunt Bess, and another uncle who would come visit from time to time. My life has taken me from Arkadelphia and I’ve ended up in New Jersey but there are wonderful memories for a wonderful time at that bookstore.
    I wonder how many others he was such a powerful influence on?

    • Thank you for sharing your memories. I would have been there just a few years after you. I’m sure your photo was on his door. I read one of his anti-war letters. His ability to give all beings worth and dignity was amazing to watch.

  6. Thank you for this remembrance! I too worked with John Allen in the bookstore, a truly life-changing experience. I have always considered him my best friend, although I know that everyone else thought so too! He taught me so much without even trying. I “ran into” this site as we plan to visit Rose Hill tomorrow to remember my dear friends there. I was with John Allen on his very last day and had to hide my tears – we both knew. Since then I went on and built my life (I wish I could tell him about it!). He would have been well known as a poet if he’d had mass communication… Arkadelphia at that time was like Israel in 4 BC, if you know the reference 🙂

  7. I also worked with John Allen, who I considered my best friend (as did everyone who knew him!). I was with him the day he died but he sent me home at the usual time. Joy and I were running around the corner and sobbing so he wouldn’t see us. He taught me so much and was never judgmental even though I was young and dumb. I would have stayed there forever just to be near him. We need to have a John Allen gathering sometime and get Dr. Hughes to come too.

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