Poetry and Jazz in 2009


April is a month consecrated to two arts I wish were more prevalent in my life: poetry and jazz. Last year, I posted a poem a day on the Burnside Writers Collective blog in honor of National Poetry Month. I’ve enjoyed celebrating National Poetry Month this year on the Poor Old Dirt Farmer blog, which featured occasional poems from Wendell Berry, William Carlos Williams, C.K. Williams, and Walt Whitman, as well as some poets whose names don’t begin with W. But outside the month of April, poetry collections don’t often find their way into my book rotation. This is as good an explanation as any of why I haven’t written a poem since 2002.

April, it turns out, is also Jazz Appreciation Month. I like jazz in the way I must have first come to love language. Too young to comprehend the words being read out loud, there was nevertheless probably some intuitive recognition of pitch and structure; I was bewitched by the tone, tempo, and rhythm of the syllables. I’ve basically spent the last thirty years trying to understand that artistry, how words chosen with precision and arranged with care can reach inside of the reader a place beyond language. And so it is with jazz: I know that I enjoy listening – but I would like to know more about what I am listening to, would like to know why I enjoy it so much. When I finish “The Rest is Noise,” Alex Ross’s great book about 20th-century classical music, I want to find a good book about jazz (any recommendations?) and finally finish the Ken Burns documentary.

In honor of National Poetry and Jazz Appreciation Months, and as a kind of down payment on a more jazz- and poetry-inspired year, the soundtrack to the waning hours of April 2009 will be “The Waking,” jazz vocalist Kurt Elling’s fantastic take on the Pulitzer Prize-winning poem by Theodore Roethke.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.


4 comments on “Poetry and Jazz in 2009

  1. Great post, yo. I’d love to read your thoughts on jazz (poetry, too). I’ve had a couple books on jazz checked out from the library for months – one of them recommended by Ramon. By Gary Giddins, I think.

  2. Wow. Great song, too.

  3. Jazz is something I didn’t get into until later, and it took some listens to wrap my head around it…I think the culture and history is just as, if not more, intriguing than the music. I just received “Visions of Jazz” by Gary Giddins from our friend Ramon, and I’m looking forward to digging into that. I’ve been curious about “The Rest Is Noise,” too.

  4. I see that Giddins has two books that will give me a good overview, “Visions of Jazz” and then a follow-up about the state of jazz at the dawn of the 21st century. Good recommendations, guys.

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