On Paying Attention: New & Collected PoemsNights Under a Tin RoofLife After MississippiPoetry from Other Books

Poetry By Jim Autry

On Paying Attention: New and Selected Poems. Jim Autry's first book of poetry was published in 1983, his second in 1989 and shortly after that he and his poetry were featured on Bill Moyers' famous series on American poetry. Since then, Jim has published poetry in almost all of his books, including those focusing on management and leadership. In 2012, he was once again featured by Bill Moyers on his "Moyers and Company" series. Jim's poetry has also been read by Garrison Keillor on "The Writer's Corner" on NPR, and has appeared in several anthologies. Jim's newest book, On Paying Attention: New and Selected Poems, is a selection of poetry from all his books, plus 25 new pieces.

On Paying Attention is available from a number of on-line booksellers, including:

New Poetry From On Paying Attention

At The Air Force Reunion
Chaumont, France, July 4, 2006

A French woman is talking to me,
breath sour, teeth brown,
face fleshy, bosom heavy,
eyes sad, voice shaking,
"So hard for me this," she is saying,
and tells me about the love of her life,
gone these fifty years:
"I had his baby then he married a German girl,"
she says in a tone that makes me understand
that here the war is never really over.
She is crying silently.
"So hard for me this," she says.
"He was a pilot so tall so beautiful."

I am remembering the missions,
practice bombing runs on imaginary targets,
intense days of nuclear possibility,
drunken nights in the officers' club,
beer-drinking contests,
toasts to someone killed in an accident,
and of course the inevitable pilot talk
of sexual conquest.

She asks if I knew her pilot lover.
I say "No" yet I knew a dozen of him.
"I am looking for someone who knows him.
I want him to know he has a daughter,
and a grandson who is beautiful like him."

She asks then if she may hug me.

So here we are, two seventy-somethings,
hugging and crying together,
And I am thinking,
there's more than one kind of collateral damage.
- James A. Autry, On Paying Attention

Free Jazz Concert, Sanibel, 2014

In this ragged rendition
of Moonlight Serenade,
played with fading lips, unsure fingers,
who knows what memories
are aroused in this audience of gray faces:
close dancing perhaps in khaki uniforms,
big skirts, angora sweaters,
kisses, pledges of love, sad goodbyes,
evidenced now in this palm tree paradise
by nodding heads and tapping feet,
exchanges of knowing smiles,
a community of strangers transported
by this band of yesterday's musicians
passing through, as we all are, one last time.
- James A. Autry, On Paying Attention

Strategic Planning Advice

Here in the midst
of your planning and forecasting,
your future scenarios and contingencies,
consider this day.
This day, now, awaits your best work.
- James A. Autry, On Paying Attention


Nights under a Tin Roof:Recollections of a Southern Boyhood. Nights under a Tin Roof is the first book written by James A. Autry, a southerner, a Mississippian whose travels and career as Air Force Pilot, newspaper reporter and national magazine editor and publisher have taken him far from his boyhood in the Deep South, both in geographical distance and personal perspective.

      In this book he returned to the nurturing presence of his Mississippi roots, to examine the forces which shaped him. His ringing, clear verse - with its wonderful synthesis of people, places and voices-focuses on the simple rhythms of rural life familiar to Americans of all regions. To accompany Autry on his private odyssey is to attend country funerals, weddings, church revivals, family reunions, courtships, dinners on the grounds - all rendered with a stunningly vivid recreation of images drawn from a unique American heritage.

      In these poems Autry has achieved a remarkably dense texture of memory which forges with readers of all ages and backgrounds what John Mac Carter, in his Introduction, calls "kinship." Carter attributes this immediate bond of sensibility between author and reader to a shared experience of "a time that promised to go on forever. We were living in an endless summer that owed nothing to tomorrow, and we were bound by neither urgency or despair...For all of us lucky enough to now who we are, and those of us still eager to find out, Jim Autry has laid this roof of tin.

Nights Under a Tin Roof is available from

Poetry From Nights Under A Tin Roof

Grave Digger

His name is Otis Cox
and the graves he digs with a spade are acts of love.
The red clay holds like concrete
still he makes it give up a place
for rich caskets and poor
working with sweat and sand
in the springing tightness of his hair.
Saying that machine digging
don't seem right if you know
the dead person
his pauses are slow as the digging
a foot always on the shovel.
Shaking a sad and wet face
drying his sorrow with a dust orange white handkerchief
he delivers a eulogy

Miz Ruth always gimme a dipper of water

Then among quail calls and blackeyed Susans
Otis Cox shapes with grunt and sweat and shovel
a perfect work
a mystical place
a last connection with the living hand.
- James A. Autry, Nights Under a Tin Rooof

You can also listen to Jim on Youtube read Nights Under A Tin Roof, Christmas, and the ever popular, yet ominous, The Outhouse

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Life After Mississippi. The distinctive Southern voice of James A. Autry continued in his second book of verse, Life After Mississippi. As the title indicates, Autry takes us on a personal voyage beyond his Mississippi roots to the corporate world where he was for many years president of magazine publishing at The Meredith Corporation.

      Autry faithfully records the voices he hears, both past and present, amid the joy and pain of living. He is, as Willie Morris writes in his Introduction, "an observer whose task is to remind us of those small but important details that add up to a significant understanding."

      Throughout Autry's work there is a simple faith in mankind, in the best that people can be. Life After Mississippi makes us stop and listen to a country preacher saving souls, an Air Force ground control operator trying to save a pilot's life, a father trying to understand his son, a young man grappling with the social prejudices of his native land. Yet Autry also knows the deep silences of the wind in the pines, of hot quiet days in the Mississippi hill country, the sound of one's own breathing.

      Autry's verse ultimately is about sharing. As Willie Morris writes: "He shares with us the power of his faith in mankind, his sense of community in the face of adversity. He takes us back and forth between the past and present, between the youth that we remember and the future we face together."

Life After Mississippi is hard to find at most online bookstores. You can find it used at

Poetry From Life After Mississippi

Why Men Fly

We sat around waiting
to see who had lit up the desert,
each of us with somebody
we did not want it to be,
burning out there,
coyotes and pack rats,
bright-eyed by the fire,
running jumping onto and around
rags of hot metal
scattered a mile,
nibbling perhaps at the odd chunks of meat.

All of us wondered the same thing
as each number landed,
Apache four two is in
Apache one eight is in
as each head-shaking, wet-suited man
came in counting the chairs,
checking each face for the missing one.

We did not know that melodrama
worked against us
until a cajun boy hit his fist
on the table and sobbed,
"Why didn't they get out?"

And one of the instructors
hand-picked a bunch of us into another room
and said
"Anybody who can't take this without crying
better quit now."
Then as we tried variations on stony faced,
he said,
"After all, if flying were safe,
why the hell do it?"
- James A. Autry, Life After Mississipppi


Poetry from Other Books By Jim Autry.

Many of Jim's other books feature poetry as well. More information on those books is found on the book page.

Poem From Choosing Gratitude [Listen to Jim read another poem from this book]]


It is early.
I am driving northeast.
The sun skims the soybeans,
the corn rises from the ground
like a green wall at the end of the bean field
at an angle that's right in every way,
a comfort, an affirmation
of the dependability of things
good and growing.
- James A. Autry, Choosing Gratitude

Poem From Looking Around for God

The Resurrection
-For Jim Gilliom, Easter Sunday, 1994

This story is about a little girl
who died on Easter Sunday
and about her father who could no longer whistle.
Everyone knew at once,
the family, the neighbors,
that life would never be the same
without the little girl,
but it took a while for everyone to realize
that life would never be the same
without the father's whistle.
No one tried to talk him into it
because they understood the whistle
was somehow with the little girl,
gone, it seemed, forever.
Nobody knew what happened that day at the plant,
or if anything did,
but even before he arrived home
a neighbor lady called to say
how much it meant to hear the whistle.
"Your father has started whistling again,"
the mother told her son,
who then carried the father's tune in his heart
until one Easter Sunday
many years later and many miles away,
in a sermon of resurrection,
the son was able at last to tell this story,
and to whistle.
And the spirit of his father was released
as a blessing to all who heard it.
- James A. Autry, Looking Around For God

Poem From Love & Profit [Listen to Jim read this poem]

On Firing A Salesman

It's like a little murder,
taking his life,
his reason for getting on the train,
his lunches at fancy restaurants,
and his meetings in warm and sunny places
where they all gather,
these smiling men,
in sherbet slacks and blue blazers,
and talk about business
but never about prices,
never breaking that law
about the prices they charge.
But what about the prices they pay?
What about gray evenings in the bar car
and smoke-filled clothes and hair
and children already asleep
and wives who say
"you stink"
when they come to bed?
What about the promotions they don't get,
the good accounts they lose
to some kid MBA
because somebody up there
thinks their energy is gone?
What about those times they see in a mirror
or the corner of their eye
some guy at the club shake his head
when they walk through the locker room
the way they shook their heads years ago
at an old duffer
whose handicap had grown along with his age?
And what about this morning,
the summons,
the closed door,
and somebody shaved and barbered and shined
fifteen years their junior
trying to put on a sad face
and saying he understands?
A murder with no funeral,
nothing but those quick steps outside the door,
those set jaws,
those confident smiles,
that young disregard for even the thought
of a salesman's mortality.
- James A. Autry, Love & Profit

Poem From Life and Work


Too many times has a death message
come late at night
for me not to fill with fear
when the telephone pulls me awake.

And when I hear the voice
I know the news is bad.
"How can they just eliminate my job like that?"
I don't know.
"After all these years?"
I don't know.

We talk a long time
about when we were younger
and everything was uncertain
but full of promise,
thinking then that money was the goal
and the job was just something we did.

But now we know the truth.
"I can get by financially I guess
but that's not the point.
It's the work."

Then at this pause,
from the silence on the end of the phone,
comes at last that same sound
of other late-night phone calls,
grief, loss, disconnection,
and yet something else,
something like rejection,
but even more than that,
as if a whole life of work
has been without worth,
so insignificant that it can be legislated away,
the way some governments
simply erase all traces
of a person's life and work,
as if he had never existed.

The phone fills with silence.
Finally, as after those other death messages,
there is nothing left to say
except the trivial.
My old colleague apologizes for waking me
and trusts that I won't be tired in the morning
and fears I have been upset
and knows there is nothing I can do
and hopes we can get together soon
and appreciates my support
and may call me for a reference
and wishes my family well.

- James A. Autry, Life & Work.

Poem From Confessions of an Accidental Businessman


Why do we keep on keeping on, in the midst of such pressure,
when business is no good for no reason,
when everything done right turns out wrong,
when the Fed does something
and interest rates do something
and somebody's notion of consumer confidence does something
and the dogs won't eat the dog food?

What keeps us working late at night
and going back every morning,
living on coffee and waiting for things to bottom out,
crunching numbers as if some answer
lay buried in a computer
and not out among the people who
suddenly and for no reason
are leaving their money in their pockets
and the products on the shelves?

Why don't we just say screw it
instead of trying again,
instead of meandering into somebody's office
with half an idea,
hoping she'll have the other half,
hoping what sometimes happens will happen,
that thing, that click, that moment
when two or three of us
gathered together or hanging out
get hit by something we've never tried
but know we can make work the first time?

Could that be it,
that we do all the dull stuff
just for those times
when a revelation rises among us
like something borning,
a new life, another hope,
like something not visible catching the sun,
like a prayer answered?

- James A. Autry, Confessions of an Acccidental Businessman


Jim's assistant, Karen Bailey, can be reached at: 515-321-4815, or by email at