Jazz Poetry: From the 1920s to the Present

By Sascha Feinstein | Go to book overview

attempt at an epic. Like Armstrong and all of the best musicians from the twenties, Tolson used the blues as a foundation for his ventures with jazz.

Written in a style reminiscent of Eliot and Pound, Harlem Gallery received praise by some who admired his stylistic abstractness in conjunction with African-American themes. Eugene Redmond, for example, wrote that "it provides one of the most powerful and authentic links between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement of the 1960's and 1970's" (258). But the general rejection of modernist verse also caused Sarah Webster Fabio to complain that "while Tolson busied himself outpounding Pound, his fellow poets forgot to send him the message that Pound was out" (57). When Tolson died in 1966 of cancer (diagnosed in 1964, shortly before the publication of Harlem Gallery), few made the effort to point out the awards he had received and the many successes in his career. For that matter, so many barbs had been thrown at the Beat writers from the fifties that no one bothered to recognize Tolson as someone who had achieved a marvelous union between poetry and jazz. Typical of so many artists, including most jazz innovators, Tolson's recognition as a writer has been primarily posthumous.

As African-American writers responding to music by other AfricanAmericans, Hughes, Brown, and Tolson achieved an intimacy with jazz and the blues unparalleled in the efforts by their white predecessors and contemporaries. And though the racism in poems such as "The Jazz Cannibal" seems no less shocking or disgusting, such works when criticized as poems -- as creative works -- simply appear uninteresting. Even the poems by Sandburg and Heyward, well-intentioned though they may have been, do not sustain the complexities of emotion found particularly in the poems by Hughes and Brown. Just as the extraordinary African-American musicians and singers from the turn of the century through the forties made the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the dance bands from the thirties seem obvious and relatively uninteresting, so did the jazz-related poems by African-American writers from this period dominate the genre.

Still, jazz poetry, even by the forties, received little attention -- certainly nothing comparable to the forthcoming explosion in the late fifties. The use of jazz and blues in poetry remained controversial, even in the strongest writing by Hughes and Brown. And yet, whether or not critics favored the new verse, jazz poetry had been embraced by some of the strongest African-American writers of the time. Silver trees, shining rivers of the soul: The world of jazzonia was no longer confined to the air.


NOTES
1
Hughes, Brown, and Tolson may have been the most important or influential poets of this period, but there were others as well. A case could be made, for example, that Frank Marshall Davis deserves equal recognition.

-57-

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Jazz Poetry: From the 1920s to the Present
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • 1 - Jazz Poetry: an Introduction 1
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • 2 - The Sin in Syncopation 15
  • Notes 36
  • References 38
  • 3 - Weary Blues, Harlem Galleries, and Southern Roads 41
  • Notes 57
  • References 59
  • 4 - From Obscurity to Fad: Jazz and Poetry in Performance 61
  • Notes 81
  • References 85
  • 5 - Chasin' the Bird: Charlie Parker and the Enraptured Poets of the Fifties 89
  • Notes 110
  • References 113
  • 6 - The John Coltrane Poem 115
  • Notes 136
  • References 140
  • 7 - Goodbye Porkpie Hat: Farewells and Remembrances 143
  • Notes 158
  • References 159
  • 8 - An Enormous Yes: Contemporary Jazz Poetry 163
  • Notes 180
  • References 181
  • Index 183
  • About the Author *
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