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So: what's your favourite jazz poem?
To start things off:William Matthews: 'Bud Powell, Paris, 1959'; 'Mingus at the Showplace'Amiri Baraka: 'Am/Trak'; 'In the Tradition: for Black Arthur Blythe'Edward Hirsch: 'Art Pepper'Frank O'Hara: 'The Day Lady Died'Mark Doty: 'Almost Blue'
Rob Berold: 'The Music'Keorapetse Kgositsile (several)Rustum Kozain: 'Mingus Octopus'; 'Talking Jazz'.....That sequence of poems by Abdullah Ibraham that begins "Joey had the biggest feet / so he played tenor"....
"I thought I heard Buddy Boldensay, you're terrible Lesterwhy do you want to bethe president of all thisof the blues and slow sidewayshorn, tradition of blue presidentslocked up in the brig for wearing zoot suit army pantsof marylous and notes hung vibrating blue just beyond just afterjust before just faster just slowly twilight crazier than europe or all its racist childrenbee-doo dee doo bee-doo dee doo doo (Arthurtraditionof shooters& silver fast dribblers& real fancy ***********fancy as birds' flight, sunward / highhighhighsunwardarcs / swoops / spiralsin the traditionquarter noteseighth notes16th notes32nds, 64ths, 128ths, silver bluepresidents..."(Baraka)
Love "Mingus Octopus", Kelwyn.
Thanks for props. Don't forget Kelwyn's own jazz poems - "Mankunku", "Jazz", "The drum is a way of life", "Barney".
Dark golden boaton a seafar away, rock with merock with me:
deep-throated birdgentle me homepast the mud-lined streetwhere thoughts stick fastand children pick rubbishhungrily
the night flakes notesfrom the scalp of my sorrow -
hide in my pillowand cry for me
Thanks, Rustum :)
There's a very strong connection to Jazz by quite a few SA poets, especially (but not only) of my generation - Seitlhamo Motsapi's poems are full of jazz references; Ari Sitas has written whole cycles of 'musical' poems; it's deep in Berold's early work etc ... RB's 'The Music' has a reference to Koh-i-Noor, that amazing jazz shop that used to exist near Diagonal St in Jhb (does it still?) .....and Hillbrow Records, where Ian Mates used to work, went to Wits with me and got killed in a landmine ambush (he became a journalist) in El Salvador, 1973 - there's a ref to him in Carolyn Forche.
Oh-oh. The reminiscences are starting again.
I had never come across William Matthews before I started to read his jazz poetry. Quite amazing - lines you have to know jazz to get, and even then that no other poet would even dream of, like this one about Bud Powell.....
I'd never seen pain so bland.Smack, though I didn't call it smackin 1959, had eaten his technique.His white-water right hand clatteredmissing runs nobody else would thinkto try, nor think to be outsmartedby. Nobody played as wellas Powell, and neither did he,stalled on his bench between sets,stolid and vague, my hero,his mocha skin souring gray......
Radiant and lovely photographs, Vic. Great poem connections, Kelwyn. My bliss is complete and it's just 7 am.
Two more very nice poems - Matthews on the 'Buddy Bolden Cylinder', and closer to home Berold's 'Sun ship'. There's a great pocket Everyman called 'Jazz Poems' (ed Kevin Young) that's worth checking out. There are inter alia poems that make the connection to written literature:
I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,and so I swung into action and wrote a poem
and it was miserable, for that was how I thoughtpoetry worked: you digested experience and shat
literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long sincedefunct, on West 4th St., and I sat at the bar ....
...And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew twoother things but as it happened they were wrong.
So I made him look at the poem."There's a lot of that going around", he said....... (Matthews)
but seriously, there is a connection - jazz pushes you towards listening more closely to rhythm, I think, and rhythmic variation: too much SA poetry (myns insiens) still sounds like all the poet has listened to is hymns and marching bands. Good schools have a lot to answer for.
And, because of improvisation, jazz maybe suggests that you push the boundaries of form....
...Enough is enough. Brother can't playhere again, the customers aren't paying.
...He summons the basslineof his thoughts in the shadows, tracing a new theory
of silence. Don't worry about the next gig.Their ears are still learning.
(John Keene, on Cecil Taylor)
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