, , , , ,

Hello Everyone. This is Gay Cannon and I will be your host today for Meeting The Bar and I had planned to talk about Jazz and Beat poetry. These poets were very much in vogue as I became aware of poetry and I think for various reasons had a strong effect on me and provided some inspiration for me. However, even though I believe in many ways these poets and their poetry are linked, I think I will cover them in two separate articles.JazzPoetryI’m not sure one could say this is form poetry.  Jazz poetry, if it is a form, is loose, improvisational, yet rhythmic, much like the style of music it is named for.

Jazz itself came out of three distinct musical forms – barrel house piano, a kind of stride piano music played in brothels in Galveston and New Orleans; work songs which culminated in that distinctive flat-box guitar music born in the Mississippi delta; and both Black and White gospel music. When these things fused in New Orleans and Memphis, we had the beginnings of the genre, a uniquely American one. Made popular by Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, W.B. Handy, and many others.  Jazz moved to funky Chicago, got slick in New York, ultimately went cool in San Francisco.

There is a bit of a divide as just who are considered jazz poets. Jazz appeared popularly around the turn of the twentieth century. I think it is generally agreed that Langston Hughes was the first consciously self-proclaimed Jazz Poet, although there are some who make the case for it to have been Edgar Allen Poe. However, Poe(and Vachel Lindsay) would have had a different kind of drum beating in their ears.

Certainly Hughes made the case for Jazz Poetry as emanating from the same place that Jazz music did and going by the name of Jazz. Blues and blues variations are considered one of the earliest manifestations of Jazz music and Langston Hughes echoed that structure in his poetry.  “Hughes must be considered the founder of the jazz poetry genre, for none of the jazz-related poets who preceded him merged the two art forms, as he did.  The respect and success that Hughes was given reflected on jazz music and its legitimacy as an important style of music.”(http://goo.gl/tScrTR)

from The Weary Blues, by Langston Hughes:

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, 
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
     He did a lazy sway . . . 
     He did a lazy sway . . . 
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.


Jazz at the Philharmonic

I crisscrossed with Monk
Wailed with Bud
Counted every star with Stitt
Sang “Don’t Blame Me” with Sarah
Wore a flower like Billie
Screamed in the range of Dinah
& scatted “How High the Moon” with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium

from Jazz Fan Looks Back, by Jayne Cortez

Poets in the Jazz tradition include: Amiri Baraka, Marvin Bell, Sterling Brown, Hayden Carruth, Jayne Cortez, Michael S. Harper, Langston Hughes, Jack Kerouac, Yusef Komunyaaka, Mina Loy, Kenneth Rexroth, and Sonia Sanchez. – Every April, the Smithsonian produces a Jazz Poetry event as part of JAM and National Poetry Month. – See more at: http://goo.gl/SpwYPY

Wiki-Media says this: “ During the 1920s, several poets began to eschew the conventions of rhythm and style; among these were Ezra PoundT. S. Eliot, and E. E. Cummings. The significance of the simultaneous evolution of poetry and jazz during the 1920s was apparent to many poets of the era, resulting in the merging of the two art forms into jazz poetry. Jazz poetry has long been something of an “outsider” art form that exists somewhere outside the mainstream, having been conceived in the 1920s by African-Americans, maintained in the 1950s by counterculture poets like those of the Beat generation, and adapted in modern times into hip-hop music and live poetry events known as poetry slams.”

It seems jazz poems can be considered such if they do one of three things:
A) Sounds like jazz — using onomatopoeia, jazz beats or rhythms,or musical sounds.
B) Can be read with jazz music or counterpoint to it.
C) Refers to jazz music or jazz musicians..

Here is a jazz take by e.e. cummings:

God Pity Me Whom (God Distinctly Has)

god pity me whom(god distinctly has)
the weightless svelte drifting sexual feather
of your shall i say body? follows
truly through a dribbling moan of jazz

whose arched occasional stepped youth swallows
curvingly the keeness of my hips;
or, your first twitch of crisp boy flesh dips
my height in a firm fragile stinging weather,

(breathless with sharp necessary lips) kid
female cracksman of the nifty, ruffian-rogue,
laughing body with wise breasts half-grown,
lisping flesh quick to thread the fattish drone
of I Want a Doll,
wispish-agile feet with slid
steps parting the tousle of saxophonic brogue.

Perhaps a case can be made that all poetry is better performed aloud (and with an audience.) Certainly it seems that as an audience informs the improvisational aspect of Jazz Music, it probably has a similar effect on live performances of poetry.  Several of the poets who link to dVersePoets could speak to this better than I can and I invite them to do so in the comments.

Vernon Frazer on his blog Bellicose Warbling makes a case for a closer construct of Jazz music and poetry:  “Personally, I recommend that poets who want to work with musicians learn something about music and vice-versa. The poet Ottone M. Riccio put a fresh spin on Ezra Pound’s famous dictum when he asserted, “Poetry is music made with language.”

“To make an effective fusion, poets and musicians need to know something about the idioms they’re trying to fuse. A poet doesn’t need to be a musician to work effectively in the idiom, but he needs to understand basic rhythm and pay attention to phrasing the lines of the poem. The musicians should recognize that a poet can’t recite comfortably at certain tempos and count off tempi that don’t twist the poet’s tongue in mid-performance. It should also build its tunes so that the musicians are playing at peak intensity during the poem’s climatic moments, instead of winding down. Knowing the poem will help the musicians create the appropriate dynamics. Grasping the rudiments of the other’s idiom helps both execute the fusion more effectively.”

It is my opinion that I see a good bit of jazz poetry every week.  Both Claudia and Brian write poems that I think can be defined that way and I have asked them to allow me to use links to ones they want to share today:

Claudia has kindly offered a jazz sonnet: for 8 missed beats you get a major 7 (that’s a fair deal,right?
and Brian asked me to choose between these; I couldn’t so I think you should: One Shot: four tokes, inhaled and use of the horn is only in the case of emergency .  Thanks to both of you!

This week link with Mr. Linky, either a jazz poem you’ve already written; or try your hand at doing something rhythmic,  using onomatopoeia, alliteration, internal rhymes, half rhymes, or no rhymes – using spacing, word play, or implication of meaning through juxtaposition of the words, or as e. e. cummings did by running words together: e.g.:

Buffalo Bill ‘s defunct
who used to ride a watersmooth-silver stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeons justlikethat
Jesus he was a handsome man and
what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyedboy Mister Death