Friday, 11 May 2018

Review: Jazz Poems

Jazz Poems Jazz Poems by Kevin Young
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a long wait I finally got a copy of this Everyman Anthology of Jazz Poetry. Loving the music I thought this is a book that needs a place on my shelves. Delving in last night for the first time, I was not disappointed. I found old favourites and some new delights.

One of the new delights was Langston Hughes's poem The Trumpet Player.

This poem encapsulates the personal and collective experience of African Americans in a portrait of a jazz trumpeter - stanza 1 is about weariness from the slave experience, stanza 2 is about change specifically the taming of natural hair, stanza 3 is about jazz music, stanza 4 is about desire, to see moonlight on the sea, stanza 5 is back to him playing, carried away by the music, and stanza 6 about how music smoothes away all his troubles.

What strikes me is the structure, the minimal punctuation, the smoothness of its reading. There is the repetition of the opening lines The Negro/ With the trumpet at his lips making it like a musical refrain,

After first reading I am in awe at the final two stanzas - how he inverts the more normal sentance structure in

(The Negro)
Does not know
Upon what riff the music slips
It's hypodermic needle
To his soul -


and how he turns the needle into a positive vehicle for deliverying the suppression of his troubles, rather than the destructive delivery of escapism via drugs that plagued many a musician.

Trumpet Player

The Negro
With the trumpet at his lips
Has dark moons of weariness
Beneath his eyes
where the smoldering memory
of slave ships
Blazed to the crack of whips
about thighs

The Negro
With the trumpet at his lips
Has a head of vibrant hair
Tamed down,
Patent-leathered now
Until it gleams
Like jet-
Were jet a crown

The music
From the trumpet at his lips
Is honey
Mixed with liquid fire
The rhythm
From the trumpet at his lips
Is ecstasy
Distilled from old desire-

Desire
That is longing for the moon
Where the moonlight's but a spotlight
In his eyes,
Desire
That is longing for the sea
Where the sea's a bar-glass
Sucker size

The Negro
With the trumpet at his lips
Whose jacket
Has a fine one-button roll,
Does not know
Upon what riff the music slips
It's hypodermic needle
To his soul -

But softly
As the tune comes from his throat
Trouble
Mellows to a golden note.



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