It happened rather quietly, maybe you haven’t even noticed yet. April arrived midweek without much more notice than Carl Sandburg’s fog gave as it crept in on cat’s feet.
With the new month comes the beginning of National Poetry Month: 30 mellow days set aside every year to encourage reading, writing, reflecting upon, and – most important of all – sharing your own creative expressions of the written word.
There are too many music/poetry connections to list…from Orsino’s “If music be the food of love, play on” (Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night ), to Kerouac’s gritty bop-infused musings to the 700+ (!) songs written by Franz Schubert on verse by contemporaries including Goethe, Byron, Heine and Rückert. (And that’s just Schubert: now think about the thousands of other works by musicians in all genres through the centuries, inspired by poetry of one kind or another.)
If you aren’t familiar (and even if you are) with Kurt Elling’s recent read on “The Waking”, treat yourself to a special experience and take a few minutes to check it out. Elling’s tribute is nothing short of breathtaking in its fresh, spare (voice + string bass duet), passionate and perfectly metered interpretation of the classic Roethke poem. Elling is one of our finest living jazz vocalists, and he’s a devoted poetry fan. It’s evident in every thoughtfully nuanced note he sings.
Collections of poetry on musical themes can also make for fun reading, “What Sweeter Music” (Everyman’s Poetry, 2000) is a nice one and so is “The Music Lover’s Poetry Anthology” (Persea Books, 2007).
Some of my favorites in this genre are actually collections of poetry written about jazz. Something about the raw, visceral roots of this music inspires poetry of equal power. For one of the best anthologies look no further than the ongoing series “Brilliant Corners” (named after the Monk tune, edited by Sascha Feinstein). 24 issues to date and counting, with contributions from names that resonate deeply with the bebop beat: Billy Collins, Amiri Baraka, Hayden Carruth, Philip Levine.
And you don’t have to live in NYC or Philly, or have a standing reserved table at Baker’s or Tippitina’s to be hip to today’s jazz and jazz lit. Right here on the homefront, Vermont poets like Major Jackson, David Budbill (who also has credits on several spoken-word recordings), David Huddle and many others give the music new dimension in their writings.
Not a poet yourself? Not everyone is. You don’t have to write poetry to read poetry and appreciate it, in one form or another.
If you have written poetry about music and you’d be interested in sharing it, click on “Comment”, below. Include your poem in the note and let me know if it’s OK to make it public and post it. (When you send me a comment here your poetry will not go directly on to the world of music site, it will only be posted if you tell me it’s alright to share it.)
Every ‘slam‘ starts with an offering from a sacrificial poet. I’ll volunteer myself this time, though in doing so I’m not exactly claiming to live up to the title! In the spirit of Nat’l Poetry Month, here’s one I wrote about a year ago. It struck me how ludicrous it was to be driving home in a blinding ice storm when I couldn’t even see the road, jamming to Willie Colón’s hot salsa grooves turned up LOUD. The music made for such a seductive contrast to the Vermont winter raging on all around, impassive and oblivious.
Drove off the road
to Willie Colón
– floated, more like it.
‘bones and bongo
a two-step glide
with San Juan’s favorite son.
All alone on the bodega floor
the flowered dress
to the grey gringo suits,
grim and cool
from the smoky corners
of a Nor’Eastern winter.
Only their eyes move.
Left, to right, to left.
Got one to share? Send it on over. And, cheers to April!
Tags: April, Brilliant Corners, Byron, Carl Sandburg, David Budbill, David Huddle, Franz Schubert, Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Kurt Elling, Major Jackson, National Poetry Month, poetry slam, Ruckert, sacrificial poet, Sascha Feinstein, Shakespeare, The Music Lover's Poetry Anthology, The Tempest, The Waking, Theodore Roethke