Thursday, November 13, 2003
week in Orono, Jennifer Moxley asked me what the role of jazz is with regards
to poetry for poets of "my generation,” she had something specific in
mind. At the
Beavers, whose poetry often employs personae & dramatic monolog, had been contrasting the role of jazz & the church in the African American community. He had in fact gone so far as to diagram it on his notepad as he sat to my left, with church as a vertical axis, invoking both the spiritual & community dimensions of experience, jazz representing both the secular & improvisatory along a horizontal axis. I don’t think Herman said it like this, but I’m sure that at some point I heard (or at least imagined) one axis as community, the other as individuality.
come to jazz in the same way at all. By the time I was old enough to start
listening half-seriously to Mingus, Monk & Coltrane right at the end of
high school, jazz had already made the precipitous transition from its role as
the most popular musical genre of the 1930s & early ‘40s to a specialist
music practiced primarily by black intellectuals. It was this practice &
the role the musicians I got to know gradually were playing – Anthony Braxton,
Cecil Taylor, the Art Ensemble of
moved to San Francisco for a second time – the first was to attend SF State in
the mid-‘60s – in 1972, I began to spend time at Keystone Corner, a club
immediately next to the North Beach police station, so that people like Braxton
& Taylor became more than just names on record albums in those days of
vinyl. And I gradually became aware of younger, local musicians such as Idris
Ackamoor, George Lewis, John Gruntfest, Lisa Rose, Greg Goodman &
important for me, even beyond the syncopations & measures of the music, has
always been jazz as a model for thinking through the issues of art. It’s
obviously note alone in that regard – one might be attracted, say, to the film
work of a Michael Snow or Stan Brakhage or
Now, having said all this, jazz for me has always been one of several musics to which I attend. I’ve been listening to folk music ever since I first heard it in the civil rights actions of the very early ‘60s (predating by a year or two my exposure to jazz), world music is exceptionally important to me even now. Post-classical music since the Second World War (especially Cage, Partch, the early Reich, Hovhaness, Harrison & more recently Tina Davidson) is always also a part of the mix. All of these musics include, in addition to their formal concerns, other elements, aspects of what it means to be an artists – my sense of a literary community comes right out of my interest in folk music, for example. And to some degree these different genres double in their value because I can think of them in a freeform kind of way. I’m not invested in them the way I am different elements of 20th century literary history.
And that too is one of the values of art. Just as David Bromige & I once had long discussions about the films of Ingmar Bergman because they enabled us to explore aesthetics without getting into the “dangerous” territory of our own writing, other art forms present us always with models of how it could be done differently, if we but look & listen.
* Was it
Creeley who first noted that what the poets at
** This is a feature that Berssenbrugge shares with the late Jack Spicer, but I have no idea at all where he gets it. Maybe from Martians over the radio. He doesn’t feel painterly in the least.