Jazz Poetry: From the 1920s to the Present

By Sascha Feinstein | Go to book overview

stone bridges arc, glimmering in lamps. Later this week
his Badlands face, handsome in a print from thirty
years ago, will follow me from the obituary page
insistent as windblown papers by the black cathedral
of St. Nicholas standing closed today: pigeon shit
& feathers, posters swathing tarnished doors, a litter
of syringes. (78)

Filled with relentless introspection and variations on Baker "Let's Get Lost", the speaker admits to passionate, personal associations with addiction ("I've never forgotten, never -- / this is the tied-off vein, this is 3 A.M. terror / thrumming, this is the carnation of blood clouding / the syringe" [80]), establishing a remarkable intimacy between speaker and subject.

Like too many artists in this chapter, Lynda Hull ( 1954-1994) died prematurely and unexpectedly from a car crash. "Our response to horror," writes Mark Doty in the "After Word" to Hull's posthumously published The Only World ( 1995), "is silence," but he adds: "Another is to make what one can, to create with all the more ardor and fury" (79). Perhaps, as Doty suggests, the creative act is the most we can ask for when facing tragedy, and perhaps the conclusion to her elegy might be read as a more universal gesture, where the release into the winds and waters of Amsterdam allows the human spirit to become as vibrant, invisible, and everlasting as jazz:

From the trumpet, pawned, redeemed, pawned again
you formed one wrenching blue arrangement, a phrase endlessly
complicated as that twilit dive through smoke, applause,
the pale haunted rooms. Cold chestnuts flowering April
& you're falling from heaven in a shower of eighth notes
to the cobbled street below & foaming dappled horses
plunge beneath the still green waters of the Grand Canal. (80)


NOTES
1.
Possible exceptions include Langston Hughes "The Weary Blues" and Michael Harper's "Dear John, Dear Coltrane".
2.
Both Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk deserve separate chapters. Apart from those poems discussed in this chapter, the many homages to Billie Holiday include Langston Hughes "Song for Billie Holiday" ( One-Way Ticket, 1949), possibly the first poem in her honor; Walter DeLegall "Elegy for a Lady", anthologized by Pool in 1962 and possibly the first elegy; and Alexis De Veaux book Don't Explain: A Song for Billie Holiday ( 1980), a biography of Holiday written entirely in verse. Whereas almost all of the poems for Holiday were written posthumously, Monk had numerous poems written in his honor during his lifetime -- more than any musician, in fact -- and they include entire books of poems,

-158-

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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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