I lived long enough to get this down onto paper, knowing well that -- like notations
on musical score paper -- it'll go on being strictly dead stuff, an artifact, until another human being runs it through that most marvelous of instruments, imagination, and transforms the look of it into sound by breathing sense and meaning and
feeling back into these blues. ( Drowning in the Sea of Love, 136)
In the work by hundreds of writers around the world, we witness the
extraordinary influence of jazz music and its mythic anecdotal history. For
those who use "that most marvelous of instruments" to combine jazz with
poetry, the music actively instructs poetic sensibilities. The varied works
by these writers directs others to the limitless synesthetic unions of these
two art forms. And it was in that spirit of discovery and joy that Etheridge
Knight wrote this inscription shortly before he died: "Be / making / sounds
/ Words / be / beautiful."
In his notes from Rising and Falling,
Matthews explains, "In the poems for Bud Powell and [the New Orleans bassist] Alcide Pavageau I've given Powell a
heroin habit and Pavageau (by implication) a limp, for reasons the poems developed. They are not necessarily good biography" (viii). The discrepancy between
actual biography and poetic license evokes a number of creative and ethical issues
that are worth pursuing -- but not here.
A third poem, Averted Eyes, concentrates on the pathos of Wardell
Gray's premature death, but even here
Matthews does not dwell on the sadness
in the same way that he does in his tributes to
Hawkins and Coltrane.
In a letter from 1988,
Matthews wrote: I'm not aware of any different
rhythmic attention in poems about music and poems about other things, except
possibly in the Bechet poem, where the shape of his solo influenced the shape of
my sentences somehow. I think whatever I know about rhythm in poetry I learned
as much from music as from literary study or reading, but there's no way to demonstrate that; I just know it.
Matthews'poem, Larkin's "For Sidney Bechet" is not an elegy. ( Larkin
wrote his poem prior to Bechet's death.) But Larkin's radically anti-modernist
aesthetic, particularly evident in his collection of essays, All What Jazz, made all
his years as a jazz critic seem like an extended elegy for Dixieland and early jazz.
Bolden seems to be the perfectly mythic figure for jazz poems, and one of
the best poems written in his memory is Robert Sargent "Touching the Past"
from Aspects of a Southern Story ( 1983) and reprinted in The Jazz Poetry Anthology.
6 The three Mingus poems, plus a fourth one, have been reprinted as a series
in the first issue of Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz & Literature, which features
an interview with
Matthews discussing these poems.
Two other poems about Mingus worth noting are Elaine Cohen's "In Memoriam Mingus ( 1922-79)" and Ira Sadoff's "Mingus: Last Speech." Cohen's poem is one
of the strongest pieces in Chris Parker's uneven anthology B Flat,Bebop,Scat
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Book title: Jazz Poetry:From the 1920s to the Present.
Contributors: Sascha Feinstein - Author.
Place of publication: Westport, CT.
Publication year: 1997.
Page number: 180.
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