Jazz Poetry

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Title: Jazz Poetry The American Idiom
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Maioriello-Gallus, Isabel
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2010
Publication Date: 2010


Subjects / Keywords: Jazz
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theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
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Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: In the early 1920s, poets in America began using a vocabulary based on folk forms and speech. African-American folk culture started playing a central role in the arts and became a way to construct cultural identity. Jazz music and classic blues were on the rise as the popular music of the time. The music and poetry were evolving parallel to one another and share many similar characteristics. This thesis analyzes the poetic works of six authors involved in the genre of jazz poetry. My research is chronological beginning at the start of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and continuing to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and through to the 1980s. I analyze how works by these six poets reflect the evolutions in jazz music from swing, to bebop, and eventually free jazz.
Statement of Responsibility: by Isabel Maioriello-Gallus
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2010
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Zamsky, Robert

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Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2010 M2
System ID: NCFE004288:00001

Permanent Link:

Material Information

Title: Jazz Poetry The American Idiom
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Maioriello-Gallus, Isabel
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2010
Publication Date: 2010


Subjects / Keywords: Jazz
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: In the early 1920s, poets in America began using a vocabulary based on folk forms and speech. African-American folk culture started playing a central role in the arts and became a way to construct cultural identity. Jazz music and classic blues were on the rise as the popular music of the time. The music and poetry were evolving parallel to one another and share many similar characteristics. This thesis analyzes the poetic works of six authors involved in the genre of jazz poetry. My research is chronological beginning at the start of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and continuing to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and through to the 1980s. I analyze how works by these six poets reflect the evolutions in jazz music from swing, to bebop, and eventually free jazz.
Statement of Responsibility: by Isabel Maioriello-Gallus
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2010
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Zamsky, Robert

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2010 M2
System ID: NCFE004288:00001

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JAZZ POETRY: THE AMERICAN IDIOM AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW 1920-1980s BY ISABEL MAIORIELLO-GALLUS A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Professor Robert Lynn Zamsky Sarasota, Florida May, 2010


I w ould like to dedicate this thesis to the poets and scholars who might read it. ii


Acknowledgements I would like to thank my thesis advi sor, Robert Lynn Zamsky, for his time spent editing the project and sharing his w ealth of knowledge. I would also like to thank Maria Vesperi for sponsoring my interest in blues music and related musicological endeavors. I would like to thank my last committee member Bret Aarden for sponsoring my attempt to st art a jazz studies cl ass and band at New College. I am mostly indebted to my parents a nd sisters for supporting me financially and emotionally during these past four years in academia. I have met so many wonderful and caring teachers in the Sarasota commun ity who have had faith in me including Stephen Miles, John Miller, Arlene Sweeting, and all the wonderful volunteers at the community radio station, WSLR 96.5. Last of all, I would like to thank Patricia Brunetti, my Uncle, Peter Maioriello, and my extended family and friends for their support. iii


Table of Contents Abstract v Introduction .1 Chapter One: The Harlem Renaissance and American Folk Traditions Introduction...6 Langston Hughes..12 Sterling Brown..25 Chapter Two: Bebop, Beats, and Bob Kaufman Introduction...38 Jack Kerouac.43 Bob Kaufman Chapter Three: The Black Arts Movement and Post-Modernism Introduction..59 Amiri Baraka Jayne Cortez.72 Conclusion Works Cited .85 iv


v JAZZ POETRY: THE AMERICAN IDIOM Isabel Maioriello-Gallus New College of Florida, 2010 ABSTRACT In the early 1920s, poets in America began using a vocabulary based on folk forms and speech. African-American folk culture star ted playing a central role in the arts and became a way to construct cultural identity. Jazz music and classic blues were on the rise as the popular music of the time. The music and poetry we re evolving parallel to one another and share many similar characteristics. This thesis analyzes the poe tic works of six authors involved in the genre of jazz poetry. My research is chronol ogical beginning at the start of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and continuing to the Black Ar ts Movement of the 1960s and through to the 1980s. I analyze how works by these six poe ts reflect the evolutions in jazz music from swing, to bebop, and eventually free jazz. __________________________ Professor Robert Lynn Zamsky Division of Humanities


Introductio n Jazz poetry in America began developing around the same time as Modernism in Europe. Jazz poetics show collaboration with modernist techni ques. In the early 20th century, poets began reac ting to the formalism and e litism of Victorian prose. Modern poets were experimenting with langua ge and looking for ways to strip poetry of frivolous verbiage. The transition from Victorian to Modern poetics is expressed well in the following excerpt from Modern American Poetry : That transition involved a major sh ift in consciousness of Western civilization. From the idea that the po etic expression of human experience required the order of traditional verbal forms like the sonnet, the iambic pentameter line, the rhymed quatrain, the balanced and purposeful stanza, there emerged a counter-idea that gath ered force throughout the nineteenth century and exploded in the early twentieth century.That counter-idea asserted that traditional formal values were too restrictive and were no longer viable in a vast, complex, chaotic, ur ban world of modernity. (Shucard et al 65) Victorian poetry relied heavily on co nventional form, lyrical images, and conventional subject matter. Modernism in poetry focuses on stripping away these conventions. The Imagists, considered one of the first modernist groups, strived to find language that would capture the sensua l and physical aspect of images (Shucard et al 70). Experimental ideas included exploring the aural quality of words and the structure of narratives in poetic verse. Me ter, rhythm, and form were treated with more flexibility. Modern poets are not the focus of this thesis; however, they 1


contributed to the evolu tion of jazz poe tics and were contemporaneous with many jazz poets. Influential American modernists include T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. William Carlos Williams, a colleague of the Imagists, was an American poet based in New Jersey. His experimentation with local dialects and environment influenced post-modern Amer ican poets and in ways parallels jazz poetics. Although many Americans were involved in Modernist poetics, the ideas of European Modernism do not exactly parallel the poetic innovations in America. In Langston Hughes and The Blues, Steven Tracy compares Hughes and the New Negro poets of the Harlem Renaissance to the Imagists including Ezra Pound, Williams, and Hilda Doolittle in Europe. A lthough these poets had similar influences, the Imagist movement and the New Negro movement borrowed from different traditions. Whereas the European-based modernists used techniques from classical Greek and European models, the American-bas ed poets were influenced by American folk traditions, specifically jazz and blues. Nevertheless, Tracy agrees with the words of Ezra Pound that both groups of poets sought to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not the me tronome (Tracy 141). Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Jack Kerouac, Bob Kaufman, Amiri Baraka, and Jayne Cortez are the central poe ts studied in the following chapters. With the exception of Kerouac, all the poets discussed are of African-American heritage and this also affects the categorization of their work and their status vis--vis European Modernism. Interestingly, jazz poeti cs does not perfectly coincide with the emergence of post-modernism, or modernis m, and therefore jazz poets question our division between what is modern and pos t-modern. Post-modernity in literature 2


harkens back to the early years of the Cold W ar and is considered to parallel the rise of consumer capitalism. Post-modern poetic s, like modern poetics, is a reaction to what came before it. The modern ideas of enlightenment and the emphasis on an objective truth are questioned by post-modern writers. Post-modern poetics explores the role of language in creating power rela tions and dominant cultural narratives. Meta DuEwa Jones considers jazz poetry collaboration between modernism and black poetics. Jones urges us to consid er jazz poetry an integrated style rather than an opposing technique to modernist poetry (7). Jones claims that AfricanAmerican poets and modernist poets created an integrated nature of influence (71) from which a new poetic canon was concei ved. The following thesis is a brief overview of this poetic canon. The canon is distinctly American and formed by the idiosyncratic sounds and voices of th is countrys people and music. The major critics used in this thesis include Houston A. Baker, Meta DuEwa Jones, Aldon Nielsen, William J. Harris, and Amor Kholi. Bakers study on black modernism in Modernism and The Harlem Renaissance helps frame my discussion throughout the thesis. I use his ideas of mastery of form and deformation of mastery to explore the role of black ve rnacular English in its relation to modern prosody. Baker sees the main difference between black modernism and Western modernism being the use of Vernacular E nglish Meta DuEwa Jones ideas on the vernacular augment Bakers definition of black modernism. Jones tackles the dichotomy between oral styl es of language and textual styles. Furthermore, she proposes that by focusing only on the oral or vernacular in jazz poetry we fail to notice the history of black literacy. 3


Aldon Nielsen helps clarify out understanding of black literacy in his analysis of alternativ e black histories within jazz poetics. Black lite racy did not rise with the advent of jazz poetics or even the arri val of Africans in the New World. Black literacy harkens back to the Af ro-Asiatic roots of the Greek civilization as well as the graphic languages of Ancient Egypt ( Integral Nielsen 124). The suppression of black civilization throughout history has preven ted us from understanding the AfricanAmerican influence on European Modernism. He discusses how the alternative histories of Ancient Egypt as well as slave histories inform the jazz aesthetic. Nielsen also incorporates the idea of a future an terior into our discussion of modernism. The future anterior was originally a way of defining post-modernism by the French philosopher, Jean-Francois Lyotard. The phrase future anterior expresses the paradox of postmodernism, namely that it is a mode of modernism rather than the next chronological phase in history (A Hard Rain Nielsen 138). William J. Harris helps push this argument further. Harris clai ms that post-modern poetics were waiting to be radicalized by a black aesthetic. His ar gument is that the radical political agenda of the Black Arts Movement completes the original ideal of post-modernity which is a revolt against hierarchical society (Harris 31). Harris argues that the leftist politics of the Black Arts Movement gives the avan t-garde its appropriat e political platform. The chapters are roughly organized by time period. Chapter one focuses on two jazz poets prolific in the decade be tween the 1920 and 1930s. In chapter one, I discuss the works of Langston Hughes a nd Sterling Brown. I trace the tension between these poets interpre tations of folk material. Their views on modernism and jazz differ and can be seen in their work. In chapter two, I look at the decade between 4


1940 and 1950. My focus is on Jack Kerouac and Bob Kaufman and how their relationships to the Beat Movem ent a nd bebop were different stylistically and socially. The last chapter encompasses th e time period of the Black Arts Movement between 1960 and 1980. The two poets I chos e to analyze are Amiri Baraka and Jayne Cortez. These poets show how some of the ideas of the previous chapters have culminated. Amiri Baraka is representative of the avant-garde style we see developing even in Hughes. The radical political age nda of earlier jazz poets comes to a peak with Barakas work. Jayne Cortez resurrect s the blues form and makes connections between African-American folk traditions and the struggles of the third world. My reason for writing an overview of jazz poetry was to better understand the meaning of jazz as a cultural symbol in literary history. I wanted to see how jazz music was manifested in poetry and how our definition of poetry and jazz evolves. The reason for choosing the specific authors I did was to keep an open, working definition of the jazz aesthetic. The way jazz is portrayed in poetry, visual art, and music itself is a reflection of our changing times and social standards. Furthermore, the consistent use of jazz as a cultural sy mbol is a testament to the strength of its underlying identity and structure. 5


C hapter One: The Harlem Renaiss ance and American Folk Traditions In the early 1900s, the explosion of jazz in American cities was influencing the written word. The aural tradition of jazz emphasizes the importance of improvisation, interaction betw een players, and sound over score. The jazz tradition was inspiring experiments in free verse a nd the oral quality of written language. Vernacular English was an idea l vehicle for poets and write rs to capture the rhythm and sounds of jazz. The period of the Harlem Renaissance is marked by an interest in folk traditions, specifically the blues and jazz, as sources for literary work (Tracy 3). It was during this period of the 1920s that poets began to mimic the techniques of jazz music and use vernacular language in their work. According to the Cambridge Campanion to the Harlem Renaissance, American folk traditions incl ude objects like quilts or je welry, but also, work songs, spirituals, tall tales, rhymes, blues and jazz. By the 1920s, literary discourse was beginning to include folk material via African-American literature. Writers like Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown were at tempting to incorporate folk forms and the vernacular into their work. These poe ts while both widely influential have dramatically different treatments of folk material and views on African-American modernism. Although contemporaneous w ith Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown was not a primary player in the Harlem Renaissa nce. This is due to Browns style of poetry and his conservatism concerning folk traditions. In many respects, Browns work is less experimental than Hughes and he sticks to traditional folk material. To a 6


certain extent, Brown is le ss m odernistic than Hughes. His poetry focuses on rural southern life and preserving rural traditi ons. Brown saw urban life as a severance from folk traditions. Hughes displays a greater propensity towards experimental forms. His poetry reflects the transition from blues to jazz, specif ically in his later work strongly influenced by bebop. Hughes captures the urban atmosphere of New York and displays the struggle and cynicism of city life. Another difference between the poets is their political affi liations. Sterling Brown grew up in Washington D.C. surrounded by many 19th Century nationalists including W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Wash ington, and Frederick Douglas all of whom were acquaintances of his father Sterling Nelson Brown (Gabbin 16). His political views are less international than Hughes and his conservative treatment of folk material must be due in part to th is nationalism. On the other hand, Hughes wrote for many leftist publications and was part of the radical pan-Africanist movement influenced by Marcus Garvey and Negr itude writers from the Caribbean. His international views on race and class coincide with Communism. Although he never joined the party, Hughes remained active in the political left and was investigated by the McCarthy Committee on subversive activities in 1950 (Lowney 102). These political affiliations help explain the contours of the poets work. Browns nationalism explains his push to preserve traditional folk forms. Hughes radicalism is reflected in his experimental innovations and politically-driven poetics The differences between these poets illustrate how the jazz aesthe tic is manifested in multiple ways. The following chapter will consider these poets perspectives on modernism and their 7


relation to th e jazz aesthetic. This will be done through a brief discussion on AfricanAmerican modernism and poetry analysis of their work. In Modernism and The Harlem Renaissance Houston Baker develops a useful framework for discussing African-American modernism. Baker sees two ways of representing black culture in literature. The first way he calls mastery of form, literally a mastery of minstrel form, a partic ular rhetorical style consisting of comedy and nonsense. Two prominent examples are Booker T. Washingtons autobiography Up From Slavery (1901) and Charles Waddell Chestnuts novel The Conjure Woman (1899). According to Baker, these writer s used the language and theatrics of minstrelsy to speak to an audience. The mi nstrelsy stereotype was a comic portrayal of black people in the 1800s. The minstr el show began with white performers imitating the life of a southern darky (Blues Baraka 84 ). It eventually expanded into a nationwide phenomenon performed by both black and white theatre companies. Baker argues that minstrelsy form effectiv ely communicates black culture to a white audience. It is one of the few ways in which African-Americans were able to have a distinct public voice. Neverthe less, it also enforces a stereotype. Baker sees this stereotype as positive for many reasons. He acknowledges that minstrelsy is a mask under which black culture is moved forward. The masking game, as he calls it, represents stoicism in black language and is necessary if we understand that there were mnemonic sounds, nonsense syllables so defining of the Negro in American life that they were inescapa ble if you wanted to address the public (Bak er 41). Baker is addressing the importance of sound in langua ge, a central part of the jazz aesthetic. 8


The m instrelsy mask, although associated with a stereotype, is necessary to express the distinct sounds of African-American folk culture vis--vis Western modernism. Dialect and the vernacular play a crucial role in the mastery of form. This is apparent in Washingtons book Up From Slavery, a collection of public speeches, in which he uses dialect to pique interest and show rhetoric al mastery (Baker 33). He uses an oratorical style to discuss the status of freed sl aves in America and advocate for greater self-determination. Likewise, th e white Ohio narrator in Chestnuts Conjure uses a different dialect from the Afri can conjure doctor. The language makes transparent the differences in culture. The title is named for the transatlantic religion, Conjure, descended from voudun and practiced by slaves in America. Baker sees dialect as the mask under which Waddell tr icks a white literary audience into accepting the deep-rooted African sound of spirituality (49). The language of slavery and its histories are transmitted thr ough the use of vernacular. The particular soundings of slavery are delive red through a distinct style of speaking. It is this oral style in black American English that Ba ker finds key to black modernism. Once writers had obtained mastery over this rhet orical style it provided a language that defined black modernism as a distinct literary movement. Thus, although the minstrel character often connotes ideas about dim-witte d, jolly, or subservient, it is the mode of presentation that Baker finds relevant The mode of presentation is an oral performance that draws from the theatrics of dancing, singing, a nd acting. Mastery of form functions by preserving the performance aspect of African culture which transmits the language, history, a nd vernacular idioms of slavery. 9


Baker identifies another for m of black modernism in the work of W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Deforma tion of mastery is markedly different from mastery of form. It is a literary style that not only contains or al influences, as in the case of dialect, but textua l influences from Western st yles. Deformation begins to unravel the complexity behind African-Amer ican forms of expression. Baker uses the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar as an example of a black writer who uses classic English poetic styles and derives much work from this tradition. Dunbar wr ote in the English poetic style and abided by many conventions of Victorian pros e; he also wrote prolifically about the black experience in America. Likewise, W.E.B DuBois followed in the scholarly tradition of white academia and his dissertations were some of the first in black sociology. These writers use Standard English forms to communicate black cultural differences. Th e use of Standard English has an important meaning for Baker. He sees it as a Western form that in the hands of black modernists becomes a deformation. It is a deformation due to the fact that black writers, in a way, cannot lay cu ltural claim to these forms. Baker states that textual influences are something taken from West ern culture and that these writers are proving themselves via a white standard (19). Deformation of mastery, meaning a break from rhetorical mastery, is a literary style that does not use nonsense or comedy as a means of expression. It is a guerilla attack on western literature since it does not hide its agenda (under neath rhetorical dialect) of studying African ancestry. Graham Lock in Blutopia describes deformation as an African American cultural strategy that involves the display of difference (64). Deformation is something that 10


is considered different or alien to the status quo. Using the character Caliban from Shakespeares Tempest Baker explains deformation further. Caliban, the indigenous man, is seen as monstrous by the magician, Prospero. It is specifically th e sounds and hoots of Caliban th at appear alien to the magician. Prospero decides to teach Caliban how to speak. The ability to speak simultaneously torments Caliban and allows him to comm unicate. Prospero teaches Caliban language but the language still appears unnatural and deformed in the indigenous mans mouth. Caliban laments his state because the new language has to rn him from his natural world. Baker compares the Caliban trope to Dunbar and DuBois, whom like the indigenous man, must learn the language of the master (i .e. Standard English). The tempest on which Prospero arrived is comp ared to the Western Renaissance. Baker describes Western literacy as something forced upon the indigenous. He uses this metaphor to clarify the relationship of black writers to western forms. In a sense, western forms cannot wholly provide an adequate way of expressing the AfricanAmerican experience. At the same time, western forms are revolutionized in the hands of black modernists. We shall see how jazz poetry struggle s between these two extremes. Poets search for a balance betw een vernacular expression and the treatment of other literary influences. The crisis black modernists face is finding a means of expression distinct from othe r styles that encompass the experience of slavery and legitimatize black American folk traditions These two forms of African-American modernism, mastery of form and deforma tion of mastery, provide a framework for understanding the role of black writers in literary discourse. The poets discussed in the preceding paragraphs are in dialogue w ith these ideas of black modernism. We 11


shall see how Hughes and Brown use m astery of form and deformation of mastery to varying degrees in their work and how th ese ideas inform the jazz aesthetic. Langston Hughes Langston Hughes is considered the father of jazz poetry, the Poet Laureate of Harlem. Born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas with his maternal grandmother, Mary Langston, and eventually to Cleveland, Ohio for high school. In 1919, he spent time in Mexico teaching English where his father had relocated. In 1922, he studied for a short while at Columbia University before withdrawing. Yet, Hughes continued to work out of New York City his entire life. Eventually he received a B.A. from Li ncoln University in Pennsylvania and continued to travel extensively, working with American, Caribbean, and European intellectuals. As a public figure, Hughes took political stances on r acial, national, and international issues. Along with many Harlem Renaissance writers, he was a supporter of communist and so cialist ideals. A handful of black intellectuals during this period supported Soviet Russia in the midst of the 1917 Revolution. Richard Wright, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Doro thy West, and Paul Robeson either visited the Union or demonstrated support fo r communism in political circles. In the 1930s, one such circle, Friends of the Soviet Union, conducted a film project on transnational relations in an effort to cement ties between proletariats, white and black (Chaney 50). The society trave lled to Russia to shoot the film, Black and White, based on principles of worker solidarit y. Although the film was not a commercial 12


success, Hu ghes stayed in Russia to report on activities there for leftist journals such as the Chicago Defender He also travelled to Lati n America, Cuba, and Haiti. Through his travels and the influence of Caribbean-born writers like Claude McKay and Marcus Garvey, Hughes developed an in ternational view of racism and class barriers. Hughes played a crucial role in New Yo rk Citys bourgeoning black arts scene during the 1920s. He wrote and published a number of blues and jazz inflected poems dealing with racial, political, and cultural tensions. Hughes activ ely performed in jazz venues in Harlem and is one of the first poets to produce a full length jazz album. The album, titled after his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues features compositions by Charles Mingus and Leonard Feather. Hughes felt that poetry made jazz more respectable and that the music gave poets a larger audience. Hughes first book of poetry, The Weary Blues was written in 1926. During the years preceding its publication, Hughe s spent time in Harlem and Montmartre, Paris writing poems influenced by ja zz inflected rhythms (Rampersad 9). The Weary Blues received good reviews and was noticed by some of the Harlem Renaissances central figures. In Alain Lockes review of the work, for instance, he says, these poems seem based on rhythms as seasoned as folk songs and on moods as deepseated as folk-ballads (Mullen 44). Hughe s voice speaks for the people in a way that affirms folk traditions and cultural roots. The content of this publication is overwhelming focused on jazz and the black experience. Hughes did receive some criticism on his lack of form al structure. Countee Cullen states that this collection must be noticed purely due to its dissoci ation from the traditionally poetic (Mullen 13


37). Hughes use of free verse can be seen as a step away from traditional form but also as an example of the new avant-gard e style developing in Europe and America around this time. Both the experimental styl e and folk content of Hughes collection are seen in the title poem. The title poem, The Weary Blues is a blues from its title but shows considerable variation from the standard fo rm. The lyric section near the closing is preceded by poetic language that is not neces sarily musical. The first few stanzas do not abide by the standard 12 bar-blues pa ttern. The prescribed pattern of AAB was popularized by blues singers li ke Bessie Smith and it still the most common pattern used by singers today. The AAB pattern consists of the first line repeated twice with a conclusion statement as the B section. There are multiple variations to this form and Hughes takes liberties with this structure. As stated by Baker, the combination of formal mastery and deformative creativity is a feature of Harlem Renaissance writers (72). The liberties which Hughe s takes on blues form shows how he acknowledges formal mastery while a pplying creative innovations. The following poem is an example of how Hughes fuses vernacular expressions with a burgeoning avant-garde aesthetic. 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. 14


He did a lazy sway. To the tune o those Weary Blues. With his ebony hands on each ivory key He made that poor piano moan with melody. O Blues! Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool He played that sad raggy t une like a musical fool. Sweet Blues! Coming from a black mans soul. O Blues! In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--Aint got nobody in all this world, Aint got nobody but ma self. Is gwine to quit ma frownin And put ma troubles on the shelf. Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor. He played a few chords than he sang some more--I got the Weary Blues And I cant be satisfied. Got the Weary Blues And I cant be satisfied--15


I aint happy no m o And I wish that I had died. And far into the night he crooned that tune, The stars went out and so did the moon. The singer stopped playing and went to bed While the Weary Blues echoed through his head. He slept like a rock or a man thats dead. (Rampersad 50) At first glance, the blues structure is not apparent. However, the rhyming of the first two lines, tune and croon, is reminiscent of the two A sections in a blues song. The indentation of the th ird line gives it the flavor of a conclusion statement. The rhythm of the verse is literally syncopated on syncopated tune and disrupts the regularity of the meter. The second section or stanza repeats this pattern. These next lines signal a further breakdown of the patt ern as a fourth lin e is introduced. The breakdown of the poem continues. The next lines are split into rhyming couplets with interjections exclaiming the listen ers fervor for the music. The speaker of the poem echoes the sounds one might imagine a congregation making to their preacher. Sweet Blues! the speaker exclaims, O Blues! The words echo and bounce loudly at breaks in the poem. They contribute to the feeling of sound ever-present by the piano player and song lyrics. Hughes uses language which is not directly vernacular but hints to a certain underlying vernacular style which makes use of verbal economy and formal simplicity (Consciousness Kramer 9). The rhymes are extremely simple: stool and fool, tone and moan, floor and more. Furthermore, the speaker keeps the vernacular present in the language of the 16


piano player. W ords like gwine and ma and phrases like put ma troubles on the shelf capture the idiomatic sp eech of southern dialect. The language of the poem does not place it in the category of aloof academia but makes it accessible to a large audience with similar experiences. As Mark Sanders argues Hughes does not simply reproduce the form or feel of the folk idiom; he invents a poetics capab le of an analogous ritual and ethos, thus a poetics promising similar possibilities for psychic recupera tion and sustenance that the idiom has offered historically (109). Sanders makes a valid point about H ughes folk aesthetic especially when compared to Sterling Brown. As we shall see, Brown sticks far more closely to the blues and ballad form and his content does not stray far from rural folk culture. Hughes borrows from these idioms but his poetics are more influenced by the breaks and beats of jazz, a definite urba n phenomenon. Hughes strays from the folk idiom but nevertheless succeeds in recycling its elements in an urban context. The analogous ritual and ethos Hughes creates is strongly linked to jazz culture. Links to the community in Harlem are made th rough the use of vernacular language, the setting of the poem, and the presence of local music. Furthermore, the speaker references a specific street name, Lenox Avenue. This allows the reader to immediately identify the poem with a lo cation. Hughes developed a reference style for jazz culture which many future poets adopted. Reference to artists, street names, clubs, and so forth becomes a way of crea ting an in-crowd. A lthough the speaker is describing the scene, s/he is not on a pedestal apart from the poem. On the contrary, the reader has the sense that the speake r knows the locale and musician personally. The speaker seems to understand the moans of sorrow and loneliness of the piano 17


player. The concluding line em phasizes the speakers awareness of the musicians emotions while also acknowledging their is olation from one another like a man thats dead. The melancholy tone of the poem speaks to the loss that many blacks felt after reaching New York in the 1920s. Instead of finding freedom from southern laws, the black community still faced oppression, segregation, and aggressive white police forces. The moaning for ones lot in life and putting ones troubles on the shelf spoke to the masses in Harlem. Freedom was the dream that many southern blacks went looking for in the big city. Lang ston Hughes explores more deeply this sentiment in his later work, Montage of a Dream Deferred. In 1951, Hughes published one his most el aborate collections of jazz poetry, Montage of a Dream Deferred The dream deferred is the deference of political freedoms which did not come to the bl ack community until the 1960s (Gussow 1228). The central theme of Montage is explicitly about this feeling of political disenfranchisement. According to Steven Tr acy, Hughes later work has more explicit calls to political action. He st ates that the blues form became a constraint on Hughes political agenda towards the end of his career; this is why we see less blues poetry in his later work (Tracy 18). The transiti on from blues-influenced verse to a bebop aesthetic is apparent in the later works, especially Montage Hughes considers Montage an extended poem, he explains in the preface, this poem on contemporary Harlem, like be-bop, is marked by conflic ting changes, sudden nuances, sharp and impudent interjections, broken rhythms, and passages sometimes in the manner of the jam session (Rampersad 387). Hughes jazz aesthetic makes use of the spontaneous 18


style of bebop. Projection is the thirty-third poem in this collection. It is written in free verse an d deals with th e multiplicity of city lif e. The poem is about the multicultural city of New York as it was becoming a Mecca of internationalism. Hughes was concerned with the possibility of creating community out of these disparate cultures. In Projection, he te lls about a day when different cultures and traditions will come together: On the day when the Savoy leaps clean over Seventh Avenue and starts jitterbugging with the Renaissance, on that day when Abyssinia Baptist Church throws her enormous arms around St. James Presbyterian and 409 Edgecombe stoops to kiss 12 West 133rd, on that day--Do, Jesus! Manhattan will whirl like a Dizzy Gillespie transcription played by Inez and Timme. On that day, Lord, Sammy Davis and Marian Anderson will sing a duet, 19


Paul Robeson will team up with Jackie Mabley, and Father Divine wi ll say in truth, Peace! Its truly Wonderful! (Rampersad 403) The poem is heavily saturated with refere nces to streets, churches, and public figures. Hughes begins by envisioning the party-goers at the Savoy, a jazz hot-spot, jitterbugging with the Ren aissance. The Renaissance, in this context, does not refer to the Harlem circle of black writer s, but rather a high class theater in New York. Hughes comments on the division betwee n high or Western culture and black culture throughout the poem. The division also exists in the religious sector between the Baptist and Presbyterian Church. The brush here is again between Western tradition and African roots. The Baptist chur ch is Abyssinian, harkening back to an ancient African country, whose fate with colonialism parallels the oppression of blacks in America. The Presbyterian Church came with protestant immigrants from Europe who faced religious oppression. Thes e communities continue to be divided by cultural differences in the city. The divisi on is seen again at Edgecombe and West 133rd. West 133rd is referring to the heart of black America in early 20th Century Harlem. 409 Edgecombe was a wealthier part of town and primarily white. As Abyssinia throws her enormous arms the church and Edgecombe stoops to 20


kiss th e opposing community, a synthesis of peace occurs in the city. Hughes marries the juxtapositions he sets forth in the beginning of the poem. The references to the Harlem jazz scene are copious. Dizzy Gillespie, a trumpeter heralding the rise of bebop, is re ferenced as bearer of the good news, the day when reconciliation will come. Inez Cavanaugh and Timme Rosenkrantz were a mixed race couple from Harlem and Cope nhagen, respectively. Inez was a vocalist and recorded with many jazz greats. Timme was an advocate, journalist, and avid fan of American jazz. He started some of th e first European jazz journals and owned venues in Paris. The list of African-American entertainers at the end of the poem including Sammy Davis, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and Jackie Mabley recall the struggle of these pioneering performers. These performers broke boundaries in many ways. Marian Anderson was the first black woman to perform opera at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Hughes is clearly calling our attention to the breaking down of racial boundari es and synthesis of culture s occurring in New York. It is interesting to note th at Hughes sees jazz as an example of this synthesis. In Projection, we find many examples of Bakers idea of deformation of mastery. The poem is attempting to create a new definition of race and culture in America. Hughes is celebrating the efforts of African-American artists who fuse both western art and folk traditions. The poem revolves around the idea of uniting Western traditions with the dance, religion, and art of American folk traditions. Hughes finds this fusion perfected in the work of artists like Dizzy Gillespie and the entertainers mentioned above. The vernacular is not prom inent in Projecti on but like Sanders explained, Hughes stills retains the feel and ethos of everyday language in his 21


inform ality. In these two poems by Hughes, I see an important facet of black modernism not explicitly dealt with by Baker. Although Baker does suggest that Harlem Renaissance writers effectively fuse the oral and textual qualities of black modernism, he does not state how or why. In Bakers treatment of modernism, he suggests that mastery of form is an authentic black expression, whereas deformation of mastery relies heavily on western influences. This is due, in part, to ma stery of forms emphasis on the oral. The emphasis on the oral is an important part of the slave tradition and derives from oral African cultures. Nevertheless, I cannot fully agree with Bakers subtle assertion that more textually-based literatu re is a less authentic form of expression. We cannot say that writers like DuBois and Dunbar (who used Standard English forms) are stealing this style of written langua ge. Although it is important to note the disruption of language during slavery, the di vision between orally-inflected African speech and proper English can be limiting. Hughes breaks down these barriers as he explores ways to communicate through both a vernacular and western aesthetic. His use of jazz and urban life as subject matte r contributes further to this breakdown. Meta Jones proposes an alternative to Baker in her essay, Jazz Prosodies: Orality and Textuality. J ones points out the misconcepti on of assuming that orality or non-verbal sources are the primary basi s of black art. She urges scholars to refocus our critical lens so that it blurs the false dic hotomies between orality and textuality (66). Jones thesis is extremel y important to our overall discussion of jazz poetry. She questions Bakers method of analyzing black modernism in terms of mastery versus deformation and his partiality towards oral expressions as definitive of 22


black culture. Jones does not ag ree with Bakers assertions that black vernacular is the m ost authentic form for black artists. It discredits the larg e amount of educated language which is also part of the black canon (Jones 70). Jones also disagrees with the historian and philosopher Walter Ongs double standard for orality. He asserts that all written word has its origin in sound but excludes writing as a necessity or precondition of oral cultures. Furthermore, Ong asserts that study and, therefore, forms of higher consciousness are not accessibl e to oral cultures. Despite that there is little scientific proof to validate such an a ssertion; it also drastically discredits the historical recovery of ancient African text and literary practices (Jones 69). Jones concern is that over-em phasis on the vernacular neglects the authenticity of other forms of black expres sion. She asserts that the neglect of the graphic in favor of the oral masks the hi story of the written word and pushes black poetry into a mere subgenre of the English language (70). Jones relates the textual to the graphic to show how structural and vi sual placement of wo rds connotes meaning. This harkens back to Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and the interconnection of graphic symbols with language. Jones attempts to use the visual as a mediator between these false dichotomies. Visual aspects of jazz poetry illuminate how writers combine the effects of orality with textual ity. This includes the syntax, grammar, and spelling of words especially apparent in renderings of vernacula r speech. While I do not focus on the visual structure of jazz poe ms in this thesis it is a topic worth considering and illuminates further the connections be tween verbal and musical phrasing. It is important in our critique of jazz poetry that we do not overlook the textual aspects while attempting to analyze the musical quality of the work. As Jones 23


points out, A scholarship that recog nizes the oral and textual as imbricated, not disparate elements in African-American poetics would enrich our understanding of how the vocal and the visual are performe d across the geographic space of the page (66). The need to delineate new principles of studying the formal structure of jazz poetry is an important call to critics. This discussion is important to keep in mind as we analyze poetic language. It would be far too narrow-minded to lump Hughes vernacular poetry into a category that make s it a modern extension of minstrelsy. His subject matter and style have integrated in fluences from academia as well as folk culture. Hughes is often accredited with introducing black ve rnacular into the vocabulary of English poetry and thereby legitimizing critical study of it. As mentioned before, Hughes effectiv ely combines mastery of form and deformation of mastery. He does not allow fo lk forms, or rather jazz forms, to be perceived as stereotypes; he gives them an explicit politic al agenda. As Tracy argues, this political agenda becomes more pronoun ced in Hughes later work specifically Montage and Ask Your Mama (1961). In Montage, Hughes attaches political significance to the broken rhythms of bebop through the use of scatting (Scanlon 48). Hughes gives the vernacular literary le gitimacy. It is no l onger only an oral expression of comedic quality, but also a pol itical tool. Larry Scanlon contributes this to the durability of vernacular language. He says, the durability of the vernacular lies precisely in its incompletion, and that this incompletion gives the vernacular the syncretic power to appropriate and redefine other traditions, dominant or otherwise. (47) This interpretation as well as Jones argument about oral language reveals the complexitys behind vernacular English. Jazz poets allow us to expand our 24


understanding of black modernism as a fusion of the textual (Western prosody) and the oral (black expression). We will now go on to explore how these folk forms, specifically vernacular language and the blues, contribute to black modernism in the work of Sterling Brown. Sterling Brown The second figure relevant to our disc ussion is the scholar and poet Sterling Brown. Brown provides an alternative pe rspective for studying the context and history of jazz poetry. Although not credited with defining the genre in the same way as Hughes, Brown lends significantly to our understanding of black aesthetics in poetry. He grew up in Washington, DC and spent much of his time in rural Maryland and Virginia. Brown attended William and Mary College in Maryland and went on to study at Harvard for a year before moving south. After his education, he spent years studying southern black vernacular, folk ar t, music, and lifestyle. After various teaching posts at Williams College, Lincol n University, and Fisk University, he secured an English Professorship at Howa rd University in DC. In 1936, he began working as a folklorist for the Federa l Writers Project at the Smithsonian. Brown grew up surrounded by black intelle ctuals and leaders mainly due to his father. Sterling Nelson Brown was a prominent minister who ran the Lincoln Temple Congregational Church in DC. He was involved with literary figures including DuBois, Washington, and a host of black upper middle class politicians and educators. He hosted debates on race at his temple attended by spokesmen on the subject including Frederick Douglas, DuBo is, and Washington. Washington, D.C. 25


had a burgeoning black m iddle-class whose l eaders were concerned with preserving racial memory and advancing the status of the race (Gabbin 16). These figures influenced Browns nationa list views and prompted his unique perspective on African-American life. Like Hughes, Brown desired to create community through the music and history of his cultu re. Yet Browns idea of community does not include to the internationalism of Hughe s and leftist leaning spokesp ersons. On the contrary, Brown suggests that it is in America, and specifically in the South, that black Americans should turn to for an understanding of their heritage. In an interview, he explains his view on Garveyite-Marxist id ea of a return to Africa which many black intellectuals took to heart, including DuBois, Locke, and Hughes. We can see here Browns unique perspective. He uses Ja mes Weldon Johnsons black spiritual poetry Gods Trombones to explain: I aint never seen any trombones in Af rica unless Louis Armstrong left some over there at this time. I mean, these guys [DuBois, Locke], when they come by me on Africa, see, they got to go wa y back. Cause my father was teaching religion at Howard; and my Sunday Sc hool teacher was an African, and he was the priestliest Victoria n I ever heard. (Tidwell 817) According to Brown, Africa has its cultural significance but you got to go way back to find it. Brown makes a cl ear stance on his id eas about AfricanAmerican history. To Brown, Africans in Am erica have a closer intellectual and political history to European culture than is often acknowledged. Undoubtedly, this is a result of the oppression of African culture and forced assimilation of slaves, yet it makes a valid point about the history of African Americans. In a sense, this idea is 26


even m ore revolutionary than pleading for a return to Africa. Brown states that community must be created at home in the Un ited States rather than searching for it outside the country. Brown became a preeminent authority on folk history at a time when many black scholars avoided the subject. Brown consciously integrated folk study into academia. He taught jazz history to Amiri Baraka and A.B. Spellman at Howard University before the school sanctioned classes on the subject (Harris 3). In the Cambridge Companion, Brown is credited with fusing secular forms and western prosody to explore folk subjectivity (99) His fusion of these two mediums differs from Hughes. Whereas Hughes poetics is influenced by experimental avant-garde techniques, Brown sticks to more traditio nal poetic devices. His subject matter is similar to classical poetics in that he writes about mythic fi gures and historical characters often in the style of an epic tall tale. He uses a structured form, whether the ballad or blues form, consistently in his poetry. Unlike Hughes, Browns agenda was not to fuse urban subjectivity of black life with folk culture. On the contrary, Brown was concerned with reconnecting African-Ameri cans to their roots in the rural south. He lamented the disregard of folk culture and the focus on modernization (Sanders 100). Thus, Browns fusion of western pros ody and American folk traditions is drastically different from Hughes. In Browns poetry, we find an attempt to preserve folk culture. His collection, Southern Road, published in 1932, reads like a cata logue of whos who in folk history. His poems include references to Am erican mythic figures including Stagolee, John Henry, Casey Jones and commemorates historical figures such as Bessie Smith 27


and Ma Rainey. The imagery of the southe rn road is a m etaphor about travelling back to the South and the freedom this can bring. The road suggests the folk cultural continuum leading to mythic and liberating possibilities (Sanders 105). In part three of Southern Road Brown uses the blues form and vernacular in his poem Tin Roof Blues. This section of the book focuses on th e trials of city life and the transition from south to north. It is marked by a cer tain austerity we dont find in Hughes treatment of urban life. Whereas Hughes de livers a good dose of cynicism and irony, Brown is more reflexive and nostalgic when treating urban subject matter. In Tin Roof Blues, we see how Brown uses blue s forms and vernacular differently from Hughes. Im goin where de Southern crosses top de C. & O. Im goin where de Southern crosses top de C. & O. Im goin down de country cause I caint stay here no mo. Goinwhere de Norfolk Western cu rves jes lak de river bends, Where de Norfolk Western swing around de river bends, Goin where de people stacks up mo lak friends. Leave is dirty city, take my foot up in my hand, Dis do-dirty city, take my foot up in my hand, Git down to de livin wh at a man kin understand. Gang of dicties here, an de rest wants to git dat way, 28


Dudes an dicties, others striv e to git dat way, Put pennies on de numbers from now unto de jedgement day. Im got de tin roof blues, got dese sidewalks on my mind, De tin roof blues, dese lonesome sidewalks on my mind, Im goin where de shingles cove rs people mo my kind. (Harper 102) Unlike The Weary Blues, Brown does ve ry little experimentation with the AAB blues form. All five stanzas follow this pattern with minimal variation. Furthermore, Browns use of vernacular is not relegated to one section of the poem but used by the speaker throughout. It is appa rent in Tin Roof the extent to which Brown has digested the idiomatic speech of southern vernacular. His phrases jes lak the river, git dat way, and t ake my foot up in my hand are all idiomatic phrases. This poem, like Bakers mastery of form, is pr imarily an oral style. The dialect forces the reader to hear the po em out loud. The informality of speech makes the poem sounds much like a conversation. The poem makes clear use of mastery of form through its consistent use of dialect. Yet, the extent to which Brown has mastered the written, grammatical style of vernacular speech is an example of deformation. The written form of the vernacular shows command of western textuality. By putting a primarily oral language into a written form, he deforms our normal conception of the English words and their pronunciation. Here again, we witness the fusion of western prosody with black orality. Brown has taken written poetry and changed it to fit the forms of African-American language. 29


Tin Roof also express es the criticis m of urban life mentioned earlier. True to the theme of the book, the poem is about travelling south via railroads to get to where de people stack up mo lak friends. Brown does not romanticize city life. The image he gives is one of dirt, poverty, and hustlers The speaker struggles to understand how a person can live in this do-dirty city. The poem represents Browns view on city life and his emphasis on a return to the South. The nostalgia for southern life is apparent. The last poem in the section hints at a similar nostalgia and criticism of urban life. Cabaret takes place at the famous Black & Tan bar in Chicago. The speaker is watching a jazz band perform and his description is periodically interrupted by fl ashbacks to the South. The description of the jazz club is primarily negative. The patrons are wealt hy white overlords who decadently drink and trash the club with their glittering da rlings. Browns desc ription of the jazz band itself is almost revolting: The trombone belches, and the saxophone Wails curdingly, the cymbals clash, The drummer twitches in an epileptic fit (Harper 111) The jazz band is portrayed as a symp tom of the excessive club culture. The musicians are making sounds we might expe ct to come out of the drinking crowd. This description of the band has very few musical attributes compared to the description of the piano play er in Hughes Weary Blues. The scene in the club is chaotic and far from the muddy waters of the south but it begins to remind the speaker of southern life. In a strange twist, Brown begins to incorporate auction scenes from slavery, in italics, wh ich may suggest a change in voice. Poor, half30


naked fools, tagged with identification numbers are carted o ut onto a levee. The scene is interrupted by loud sounds fr om the jazz band, BeedapeeDoop, before returning to the auction scene again. Whereas Hughes often using scatting to signify a celebration or a political cry in his poetry, Brown interjec ts scatting syllables at a moment of mental disconnect. Jazz sign ifies a more violent, chaotic and unstable emotion than it does in Hughes. Brown must have seen jazz as a symptom of the transition from south to north and the disconnect this caused between AfricanAmericans and their rural roots. The next stanza makes it clear that the sp eaker in italics is an auctioneer, in reference to a female slave, he says, A prime filly, seh. What am I offered, gentleman, gentleman. The poem wavers between these scenes in the jazz club and images of blacks in the South. The images juxtaposed could not be more opposite. To a certain extent, th ere is something fake and unreal about the bar scene. The images of the Missisippi and the miserable folk which reside there, amidst floods and mud, are unpleasant but also real co mpared to the frivol ities of the club. The speaker interjects with nostalgic references between the juxtaposed scenes. In reference to the South, he says Still its my home, sweet home, and Ive got my toes turned Dixie ways, Round th at Delta let me laze (Harper 112-113). Despite the distress of southe rn life, the speaker calmly cl aims it as his home. Even the glittering women, drunken feast, and w ild music cannot stop the speaker from thinking about the South. As the poem comes to a close, the music climaxes: The band goes mad, the drummer throws his sticks At the moon, a papier-mache moon, 31


The chorus leaps into weird posturings, The firm-fleshed arms plucking at grapes to stain Their corralled mouths; seductive bodies weaving Bending, writhing, turning My heart cries out for M U D D Y W A T E R (Down in the valleys The stench of drying mud Is a bitter reminder of death.) Dee da dee D A A A A H (Harper 113) In this last section of the poem, we see all the pieces that comprise it. The descriptive bar scene, the speakers lament the image of the south, and the voice of the jazz band are all spoken for. The pa rty-goers appear to be continuing their Dionysian feast with grapes and seductiv e dancing. The speaker releases a final lament recalling the pervasive image of the river. The river is a natural phenomenon so unlike the industrious city the spea ker finds himself in. We are reminded of Browns resistance to modernization, in an industrial sense, and his preference for the rural, natural landscape. The final image of the south is a powerful one. The ultimate reality of death is associated with the muddy banks of Missi ssippi valleys. It is clear that Brown finds ultimate reality residing in the south. Although the distractions of 32


the city are powerful and w ildly intoxicating, they are frivolous com pared to the realities faced in the South. Browns Cabaret is a constant reminder that AfricanAmericans have origins and histories found nowhere but h ome, sweet home, in the southern United States. In part two of Southern Road On the Restless River, Brown introduces us to his Slim Greer series. The Slim Greer series is a good example of deformation of mastery or Browns fusion of western prosody with secular forms. He engages in the process of deformation by incorporating ancien t Greek myths with this folk series. In Slim Greer, Brown uses the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice as a framework for Slims adventures. Gabbin calls this cross-pollination a nd credits it with maintaining the strength of both traditi ons, while simultaneously exhibiting vital new combinations and varieties (117). The Slim series was inspired by a black waiter Brown met in Kansas City during hi s post at a university there. Slim was a waiter and animated storyteller in the folk tradition (Gabbin 92). The series has many implications of both mastery of form a nd deformation. Brown successfully imitates the tradition of folk storyt elling in a typical bravado fa shion. The technique used in the Slim Greer series is reminiscent of mi nstrel-like entertainment and incorporates a good dose of nonsense. Nevertheless, this five -part series goes far beyond nonsensical entertainment and succeeds in making a poten t social critique. The first poem in the series, titled Slim Greer, tells a co mical story about Slim getting caught in Arkansas. Surprisingly, Slim, no lighter th an a dark midnight, passes as a darkskinned European and finds himself dati ng a white woman. One day when a white 33


m an visits the woman, Slim is caught playi ng some monful blues on a piano in the parlor. The drama ensues: The cracker listened An then he spat An said, No white man Could play like that. The white jane ordered The tattler out; Then, female-like, Began to doubt, Crept into the parlor Soft as you please, Where Slim was agitatin The ivories. Heard Slims music--An then, hot damn! Shouted sharp----Nigger! An Slim said, Maam? She screamed and the crackers 34


Swar med up soon, But found only echoes Of his tune; Cause Slim had sold out With lightning speed; Hope I may die, sir--Yes, indeed. (Harper 78) The one thing that gives away Slims id entity is his music. The blues are so distinct to the African-Ameri can experience that it was im possible for Slim to pass as anything else after this incident. Brow n uses this story to poke fun at the preconceptions people have of blacks in th e South, and in general. The story is comedic due to the ridiculous situation that Slim finds him self in. The fact that he effectively convinced a woman he was from Spain or else from France is stated jokingly but hints at the flui dity of race. Slim was succe ssfully passing as a European until the almost fatal moment when he is ca ught playing the blues. It is music that defines and confines Slims her itage and racial possibilities. In Slim in Atlanta, Slim is almost arrested for laughing in public. It is against the law for blacks to laugh out loud a nd so they must do deir laughin-In a telefoam booth. The police show him the line for the booth and Slim pushes to the front. When he finishes hysterically laughing, Den he peeked through de door, An what did he see? 35


Three hundred niggers there In m isery.---(Harper 81) The sight of three-hundred blacks waiti ng in line to laugh is comic but also painful. Brown uses the folk story to entert ain but also to make a vital critique about oppressive laws in the South. Brown places th e oppressive history of the South at the center of his comedic tale. In the last poe m, Slim in Hell, Slim goes to Hell and finds out that he is actually is in the Dixie South. To top it off the devil is a cracker-Wid a sheriffs star (Harper 91). Brown situ ates his critique firmly in the southern United States using the idiom of the oppre ssed class, vernacular English. The poems are undoubtedly comic but serve a necessary function as a political critique of southern laws. Continuous lynching and violence in the South was rampant during the 1920s, especially the Red Summer of 1919 (Gussow 12). Brown combines mastery of form w ith a political agenda and western prosody. The entire Greer series is told in concise four line st anzas with the second and fourth lines rhyming. The simple rhymes are used with such consistency that we cannot ignore the formal structure of the se ries. Unlike Hughes, Brown sticks close to formal structure and in this way fuses western poetic formality with black subject matters. In conclusion, the period of the Harl em Renaissance witnessed the emergence of two poets central to jazz poetry. As seen in their works, jazz poetry can encompass a wide range of perspectives. While the pers pectives may differ, it is specifically the sources of inspiration that are similar. Both Hughes and Brown mine traditional American folk material as models for their work. They focus on the nuances of black 36


history and the black exp erience in Ameri ca. American English vernacular and folk music play an integral role in the forma tion of poetic struct ure. As Meta DuEwa Jones suggests, it is important to avoid a narrow understanding of the jazz aesthetic. The different angles from which Langst on Hughes and Sterling Brown treat folk material help us expand our definition of the aesthetic. We can extrapolate a few aspects of the aesthetic, namely the use of folk material, the emphasis on community and identity via music, and a political age nda based on either a le ftist or historical critique. The respective views of these aut hors on modernization, music, and politics inform their poetic content further. These poets help reveal the nuances of black modernism. As Baker notes, the Harlem Renaissance period signals a combina tion of black literary styles; some of which are based in the oral folk tradition more than others. It is crucial to recognize the Western literary influences which perv ade both artists work. In Hughes, we witness a strong leaning towards European av ant-garde styles in his experimental free verse. Brown sticks closer to traditional forms similar to structured Romantic verse. Jazz poetry is specifically an American idiom due to the fact that it incorporates both Western influences and African oral styles. It is based on the unique history of slaves in this country and the in tegration of sound and language which occurred here. 37


Chapter Tw o: Bebop, Beats, and Bob Kaufman In the 1950s, Beat poets were devel oping a counterculture grounded in the jazz idiom and an increasingly leftist platfo rm. The beat generation grew up during a time of post-war disillusionment. The postWWII generation was, literally, beat, after more than two decades of war and The Great Depression. These writers were tired of the social values imposed on them and were searching for an alternative lifestyle. The Beat Generation usually refers to a specific group of writers during the 1940s and 50s: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and John Clellon Holmes. There exist many, albeit lesser known, works by female beats including Joyce Johnson, Diana DiPrima, and others. Beat also signals the soundings of a new era. Writers and artists were turning to the expressive sound of bebop as a model for writing. The music had new rhythmic and harmonic variations. Most not ably, bebop rhythm changed the feel of swing. Swing usually relied on a 2/4 feel with accents on the off-beat. Bebop fell into a faster 4/4 rhythm over which a l onger melody line could be constructed. Many bebop tunes are standard jazz songs with the same chord changes but different melodies (Coolidge 37). The prime innovators of bebop include alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell, and drummers Stanley Clarke and Max Roach. These musicians played in the same local bars and cafes that the beat writers frequented, including Th e Village Vanguard and The Five Spot in New York. 38


W ith its screeching notes and raucous rhythm bebop expressed the discontent of a generation. Bebop was a reaction to the over-commercialization of swing and discriminatory practices in the music business. The swing era had left black musicians, in particular high and dry. As swing swelled in popularity, it disenfranchised many black musicians invol ved in its creation. For example, the Benny Goodman band used Fletcher Henders ons arrangements to develop a more authentic sound. Nevertheless, few black arrangers and bands received sufficient compensation for these jobs or steady wo rk (Blues Baraka 163-164). Mixed bands were not allowed in the swing hey-day of the 1930s. Most recordings were done by white bands and most jobs in the music industry belonged to whites, including the new business of radio. According to Amiri Baraka, the American public was subjected to a false understanding of jazz history from the begi nning. The first jazz recording was done by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917, a white band influenced by New Orleans legend King Oliver. Baraka suggests that the cultural lag had won again because the ODJB was a white band (Blues Baraka 143). Therefore, the public was left with the impression that jazz was a white music. Although there were many prominent black performers in the cities including Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, and Louis Armstrong, the music industry was dominated by white producers and promoters. The popularization of jazz by the industry resulted in stripping the music down to a pre-formulated score. The score denied jazz its improvisatory flavor and uprooted it from the blues tradition. The bl ues tradition relies heavily on the human 39


quality of sound and live inte raction between players. On e important band during this tim e turned out to be Count Basies big band. The blues style of playing remained strong in the Basie band. The riff-solo st ructure mimicked the antiphony, or call-and response, of old gospel and spiritual songs Basie sometimes played in a smaller combo style that was adopted by th e beboppers. The tenor saxophonist, Lester Young, was a soloist in the Basie band before becoming an icon for the hip generation of bebop. Bebop, therefore, emerged as music for the malcontents. These musicians insisted on returning to the blues tradition and to the human quality of sound that swing music had sold for a profit. The blues form crops up again as inspiration for poets and musicians alike. Ba raka states his point about the politics of bebop: The Negro music that developed in the forties had more than an accidental implication of social upheaval associated with it. To a certain extent, this music resulted from conscious attempts to remove it from the danger of mainstream dilution or even understanding. For one thing, the young musicians began to think of themselves as serious musicians, even artists, not performers. (Blues Baraka 188) The transition from swing to bebop shows a tension common in the development of jazz. The tension is be tween the popularization of music and the artists commitment to innovation, which is not always well received. Bebop was an innovative response to the swing style of pl aying as well as the cultural values around swing music as entertainment. Bebop players no longer wanted to watch jazz confined to the dance hall or Broadway show. These jazz musicians wanted to find 40


value in the music its elf, not just the musi c as money-making entertainment. For this reason, bebop can be well compared to Bakers idea of deformation of mastery. To a certain extent, the jazz idiom was def ormed by bebop. Jazz was given a new vocabulary through bebops destruction of standard songs and its technical innovations. Many bebop standards are based off of George Gershwins song I Got Rhythm, yet barely resemble this song due to alternative melodies, bridges, and the incredibly fast tempo at which the chord changes are played. The new language of jazz provided the bourgeoning counterculture with a revolutionary aesthetic and music. The poets focused on in this chapte r, Jack Kerouac and Bob Kaufman, are strongly influenced by bebop and improvisatory jazz. These poets styles are similar to bebop in their use of spontaneous poetics. Spontaneous poetics is a method used by Kerouac in order to facilitate stream-of consciousness writing (Douglas 11). To a certain extent, Bob Kaufman also practiced this technique. However, Kaufmans style of spontaneity was primarily oral. He perf ormed his poetry from memory and in this sense it is linked to the aural improvisati ons of jazz musicians. As seen in the previous chapter, both poets have a uni que interpretation of American English and use experimental grammar a nd syntax in their work. The poets differ in many respects as well. Bob Kaufman speaks on a more political platform and gains raw material from society rather than from his own autobiographical experiences. Kaufmans con cern with the issues of race, violence, and empire in America are notable in hi s poetry. Both poets use jazz as a poetic medium but have drastically different in terpretations of the music. Amor Kholi 41


describ es Kaufman as putting the blackne ss back into jazz poetry. Kholi states, Whereas many of his white contemporaries skimmed an ecstatic abandon off the surface of jazz, Kaufman recognized what we might call a revolutionary potential in black music (165-166). We shall see how this is done in the section on Kaufman. Kerouac and many other white beats have been accused of essentializing black culture in their work. As Aldon Nielse n puts it, black artis tic and intellectual influence, although prominent, was present ed as something that is inhaled along with music and marijuana (A Hard Rain) As we have already seen, this is far from true and black poets are the major pl ayers in this genre of poetry. Beats poets did openly acknowledge their influences, al beit the media and academia were not as interested in black intellect uals during this time. Nevertheless, the beat generation was beginning to see a new vision for America, less segregated, less bound by conventions. Maria Damon states, One of the goals of the Beat utopia was this kind of cross-racial democracydemocracy, that is in the sense of identifying with the fellaheen, as Kerouac called themthe down and out, the anonymous worker, and so forth (144). The identification with the down and out had different connotations for the minorities involved in the movement. For exam ple, the black musicians and poets did not have to identify with the lower worki ng-class, since they had been at the bottom wrung of the economic ladder for centuries. It became for the black minorities a tense negotiation between non-equals rath er than a conscious identification or change in lifestyle (Damon 143). Th e negotiation was between like-minded individuals who disagreed w ith the dominant society and the values it imposed. 42


Neverthe less, these like-minded individuals still had to deal with racial and intellectual divisions. These dealings are reflected in their poetic works. Kerouac Jack Kerouac was an influential Beat poet. By the time his seminal work, On the Road was published in 1957 he was hailed as the father of the beat generation. Kerouac was involved in establishing new countercultural values in America which resisted the dominant cu lture. He was suspicious of the consumer culture industrialization promoted. In the 64th chorus of Mexico City Blues Kerouac discusses escaping society: Id rather die than be famous, I want to go live in the desert With long wild hair, eating At my campfire, full of sand (Kerouac 64) Kerouac is wary of modernization occu rring in the cities. His poetry often refers to dreams and in some instances romanticizes the natural landscape. It is as if Kerouac is searching for a way out of society. After the publication of On the Road Kerouac moved to Orlando, Florida to a void the publicity he received. He was plagued by an alcohol addiction and this c ontributed to his hermit existence in later life. Kerouac avoided fame, due in part, to his identification with the working class or fellaheen. He was enthralled by the underground world of jazz, nightclubs, and living off the grid. 43


Kerouac found expression in the black aesthetic of jazz. He wrote using ideas akin to im provisatory jazz. Spontaneous prose was one of the techniques Kerouac practiced. He did this by typing his novels on a conti nuous roll of paper to avoid stopping when the typewriter needed to be refilled (Clark 96). Kerouac advocated the Olsonian idea of writing sentences or phr ases which lasted the length of a breath. Much in the same way that musicians use th eir breath to determine the length of their phrases. Kerouacs relationship to the English la nguage is interesting due to the fact that his first langua ge was originally Joual a French Canadian dialect. Linguistically, Ann Douglas states, Kerouac always le d a double-life; the idiom of his novels was American English but his imagination was joual (16). Douglas contends that Kerouacs styl e of writing de-anglicizes the English language. Clark Coolidge describes joual as a vocal language and as an ancient French, preAcademie francaise (39). The pre-modernity of Kerouacs first language lends itself well to the aesthetics of jazz. We shall disc uss later the relationshi p of jazz poetry to a pre-modern aesthetic, namely a return to alternative histories which do not follow the dominant Western civ ilization narrative. Two collections of Kerouacs poetry, Mexico City Blues and Book of Blues, are prime examples of jazz poetry. In the preface to Mexico City Blues, Kerouac states that he wants to be considered a j azz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam session. The books consist of short breath-like poems called choruses. In Kerouacs spontaneous choruses he freely associates memories with his immediate environment creating a kind of fantastical experience of the mundane world. The 44


book was rejected by Lawrence Ferlinghettis City Lights Publishing Com pany. Eventually Don Allen pub lished the book in 1959 with Grove Mexico received harsh criticism from reviewers including Ralph J. Gleason and Kenneth Rexroth. The drug references and spontaneous writing style were lambasted for their non-intellectual quality (Clark 120). In much of Kerouacs poetry, there is a highly personal element. Ginsberg criticized Kerouac, specifically about his style of writing during the Mexico Blues, for being too self-involved and refusing to deal w ith social realities in his work (Clark 115). Nevertheless, Kerouac was working towards the perfection of a personal style. Kerouacs voice is nostalgic and, in a sense, searching. In the 24th chorus of San Francisco Blues, he laments: San Francisco is too sad Time, I cant understand Fog, shrouds the hills in Makes unshod feet so cold Fills black rooms with day Dayblack in the white windows And gloom in the pain of pianos; Shadows in the jazz age Filing by; ladders of flappers Painters white bucket Funny 3 Stooge Comedies And fuzzy headed Hero 45


Moofle Lip suckt it all up And wondered why The milk & cream of heaven Was writ in gold leaf On a bookbig eyes For the world The better to see-( Book of Blues Kerouac 25) The chorus above reads as a series of phrases not necessarily related. The lines do not always encompass one, single thought. The reader is left with the impression that ideas have been left out or sentences unfinished. Yet, it is this chaotic chain of associations that is so definitive of hi s jazz poetry. Kerouacs poetry mimics, in a way, the desire to escape from society by avoiding a coherent logic. Kerouac was critical of the world around him, especially the city life, despite the fact that he spent much of his time there. In San Francisc o Blues, Kerouac portrays the city as a rough and gloomy place where men and wome n struggle to get by. He often uses color imagery in his poems, primarily black, wh ite, or gray. As seen above, he plays with juxtaposing black and white imagery. I cannot help but read into this Kerouacs perceptions about race in America. In Ann Douglas essay, she comments on his pre-critical awareness of race, and notes that, in On the Road he portrays the country as filled with various races, ethnicities, speaking many tongue s, migrating from one place to another as seasonal laborers, wandering around as hobos and hitchh ikers, meeting each other in brief but somehow lasting encounters (10). Nevertheless, Kerouac does not tackle the political 46


issues of race but he does acknowled ge ra cial diversity. Race occupies his poetry often as subject matter. Kerouac watched disparate races intermingle in the United States including Mexican, Irish, and African-American. In the 6th chorus, he observes, Harried Mexican Laborers Become respectable In San Francisco Carrying newspapers Of culture burden ( Book of Blues Kerouac 7) The culture burden is left undefined but it seems to relate to the multiplicity of cultures in America. Kerouac, like many jazz poets, was attempting to define American culture. The difficulty in such a project is that America is comprised of many cultures. Nevertheless, I suggest Kerouac finds commonalties in American culture through language. The fusion of native di alects in this country relates to the way that Kerouac exploits and flexes American English in many of his poems. There are numerous instances of Kerouacs play on language in The Book of Blues In Richmond Hill Blues, Kerouacs brutal honesty tapers off into a series of goofing sounds: Anytime you want A write a fucken poem Ope this book & Scream no more But Cream Cry 47


Fret not Flow Fray Fray the edge of Froy Make Frogs Allitera te Bekkek! Bekkek! Koak! Koak! Carra Quax! Carra qualquus Kerouacainius! (Kerouac 85) The morphology of words expresses the idea that language is in motion and that meaning changes with sound. The flexib ility of language also functions as a metaphor for the flexibility of culture, specifically the melting and molding of race in America. Scream becomes cream and fret eventually morphs into Froy. The use of nonsense words abound such as ope, alliterate and bekkek are silly and almost comedic. Coolidge compares Kerouacs nonsensical language to moments of goofing off during the record ings of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker (44). This sense of goof is interjecte d throughout Kerouacs writi ng and an important aspect of the jazz aesthetic. Jazz musicians quotation of musical phrases within their solos is another example of goofing. Bebop musicians often quoted popular songs, lullabies, or sometimes themes from sym phonies in their solos. This technique is known as the jazz joke and can be compared to Kerouacs interjection of unrelated material in his poetry. Coolidge speaks a bout this aspect of Kerouacs Bop prosody: 48


Theres also a convention in Bop for the quotation of other tunes. C harlie Parker did that a lot, and Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins. Which reminds me of Kerouacs inclusion of things that ha ppen to pop out in his memory which maybe didnt have to do directly with what he was describing. Plucked from the great wellspring of forms in his composing head. (Coolidge 44) Douglas comments further on Kerouacs experimental grammar and syntax. She compares Kerouacs lack of punctuation in the novel Tristessa (1992) with Charlie Parkers version of Embraceable You, in which he leaves the last bar unresolved. Kerouac, like Parker is inviting the reader to pick up where he left off. Clark Coolidge notices this aspect of Kerouacs writing in his never-ending phrases. By the time the poetic line ends, you often feel that it has not come to a close. It is here, in the long lines of seemingly run-on material, that Coolidge finds Kerouacs relationship with jazz improvisation. Kerouacs jazz aesthetic is seen in his writing style. He mimics the techniques of improvisation, phrasing, and rhythm us ed by bop musicians. Kerouac is an interesting countercultural fi gure. He is often accredite d with leading the Beat movement and inspiring the hippie cultu re of the 1960s. Nevertheless, Kerouac avoided this iconic status and d ealt most closely with personal identity in his art. Still, his fascination with American culture a nd perceptive observations of life in this country inspired future generations of artis ts. He was less politically outspoken than the previous two jazz poets we reviewed, yet Kerouac retains an awareness of race and community throughout his work. The fo llowing poet we will discuss deals with similar aspects of jazz poetry including spontaneity and a critique of culture. 49


However, Bob Kaufm ans style of improvisa tory poetics and his pol itical agenda is more explicitly stated. Kaufman Bob Kaufman, although central to the beat movement, is not generally considered part of this group. This is due to the fact that Kaufman published almost none of his work during his lifetime. Critical studies of Kaufmans work have come out recently due to an interest in the role of black intellectuals in the Beat Movement. Bob Kaufman was subjected to the worst cruelties of society during his lifetime including shock therapy in New York and vi olent police harassment in San Francisco. Kaufman did not begin publishing his work until late in life under the influence of his wife, Eileen, whom transcribed his work. Th is occurred only afte r a decade of selfimposed silence during the Vietnam War. Kaufman did not speak until the war was declared over. I include Kaufman in this ch apter mainly due to his wide influence on beat culture and aesthetics. Kaufman was born in New Orleans to Cat holic parents of African descent. In his poetry and throughout his life, Kaufma n claimed numerous cultural identities including Jewish, Spanish, and Caribbean (Nielsen 135). The attempt to shroud his identity in multiple ethnicities created a mythology around Kaufman. Kaufman does identify strongly as a black minority in America. Many of his poems explicitly explore the meaning of blackness: UNTITLED THE SUN IS A NEGRO. 50


THE MOTHER OF THE SUN IS A NEGRO. THE DISCIPLES OF THE SUN ARE NEGRO. THE SAINTS OF THE SUN ARE NEGRO. HEAVEN IS NEGRO (Foye 59) The abstract associations with the su n elevate blackness to the highest realm, the sky and space. The religious theme places the Negro in a spiritual sphere separate from the coarse r ealities on earth. Kaufmans reverence for the black man is clear in so much of his work. The ambiguous UNTITLED title of the poem reflects a refusal to label race. By actively separa ting him self from just one racial group, Kaufman makes it impossible label him but also to impos e singular identities on race in general. In a sense, this is an obvious statement but also the most crucial. Racism in America has stemmed from exactly this l umping together of ideas we have about another race. The result is a monotonous st ereotype (consider mi nstrelsy) which leads far from the reality of indivi dual existences and experiences. Kaufman did not publish work until the mid 1950s due to the insistence of his wife, Eileen. Prior to publishing, Kaufman was a poet in the oral tradition. He composed his work mentally and performed it from memory in the cafs of San Francisco. Kaufmans work is integral to the course of jazz poetry for many reasons. His contemporaries, and in some respects, followers, were mainstream beat poets including Kerouac. He is credited with co ining the word beatnik in an interview with a San Francisco reporter (Foye ix ). Nevertheless, Kaufman is not a household name despite the fact that hi s work and lifestyle were literally manifestos for the Beat generation. 51


The 1940s and 50s were still rife wi th segregation and state-sanctioned racism The result is a sidelining of many bl ack and female Beat writers. Neither of whom received the same kind of media attention as Kerouac, Holmes, or Ginsberg. A popular example of this exclus ion is the cover of a 1950s Life Magazine dedicated to delving into New Yorks beat scene (Nie lsen 137). The scene is successfully depicted as white and male. The cover photo depicts a white male in a run down living room holding a copy of Bob Kaufmans Abomunist Manifesto The magazine shows how influential Kaufmans work was yet he did not receive open acknowledgement by the mainstream. Despite the beats open and consistent glorification of black culture, white me dia and academia did not acknowledge these facts in the 1950s. Another example of Kaufmans view of black America is his consistent reference to the figure Crispus Attucks who appears in his seminal piece The Ancient Rain and usually alongside another martyr figure, Gabriel Garcia Lorca. Attucks was a revolutionary black man described in some cases as mulatto or Indian. During the revolt at the Boston commons, Attucks was killed in the massacre. Crispus Attucks died first for the Am erican Revolution, on the opening day of American glory. Crispus Attucks does not want a white mother. Crispus Attucks is the Blackstone of the American Revoluti on that is known to God. Crispus Attucks is not the son of the South, not the s on of Lee, not the son of Jefferson Davis. The South cannot have Attucks for a son. Crispus Attucks is my son, my father, my brothe r, I am Black. (Foye 79-80) 52


Crispus Attucks stands for something e ssential to the soul of America. His position in history at the ve ry beginning of the American Revolution prompts a call for revolution today. The reference to him is a revolutionary call to readers and fellow poets. The violence and oppression of A ttucks reflects the same violence that Kaufman saw in his present day world. Kaufman also uses Attucks to redefine southern history. He wants to strip the south of the historical figures associated with the Confederacy and replace them with a bl ack martyr. The aftermath of World War II and the nuclear threat of the Cold War prompts Kaufman to examine violence in America on both a national and international level. In The Ancient Rain, Kaufman fiercely delineates what is and isnt Amer ican. America is a central subject in the poem, along with the metaphor of the ra in itself. Throughout the poem, Kaufman describes what the rain stands for. It is strongly associated with America. In America, the Ancient Rain is beginning to fall again. The Ancient Rain falls from a distant secret sky. It shall fall here on America, which alone, remains alive, on this earth of death. (Foye 75) Despite the racism and hideously oppre ssive history of Americas empire, Kaufman retains a surprisingly pa triotic element in his work. It is clear that Kaufman is attempting to reclaim and redefine his country. America is revolutionary and unmistakably black. America is the land it wa s meant to be by our forefathers. In Like Father, Like Son, Kaufman reiterates these sentiments: America is a promised land, a garden torn from naked stone, A place where the losers in ear ths conflicts can enjoy their triumph. 53


All losers, brown, red, black, and white; the colors from the Master Palette. (Foye 37) In Amor Kohlis article, Saxophones and Smothered Rage, he analyses how Bob Kaufmans racialized place in his hist orical and cultural milieu affected the way he presented jazz in his poetry. Amor Kohli warns about the risk of transhistoricizing Kaufmans work if we attempt to categorize him as Beat alongside his white contemporaries ( 166). Kaufmans work, although strongly influential on the Beat Movement, has crucial stylistic differences. One central difference is the treatment of jazz content and what jazz represented socially. Kaufman finds a duality in ja zz. It is simultaneously Afri can while also American, yet neither both at once. Jazz repr esents the black artists relation to a white mainstream. According to Kholi, it is the destruct ive potential of jazz that Kaufman finds most valuable to its aesthetic. The destructiv e or violence inherent in jazz is masked by its commercial face. The result of this tension is a third way which Kholi describes as regeneration. Regeneration would be the catalyst for innovation and the in-between state between popularization a nd a new style. Kholi sees Kaufmans poetry as an attempt to regenerate new forms in the same way that jazz generates new styles. Jazz contains the tools for questioni ng ingrained values and mores. The very fact that jazz mimics the double conscious subjectivity of America allows it to signify deconstructive methods. Deconstruc ting the dominant hierarchy of Western values in art and culture is crucial to the jazz aesthetic. We find these musical practices most prevalent during the begi nning of the 1940s with the emergence of bebop. Bebop innovators, specifically Char lie Parker, defined the genre by 54


deconstructing the popular standard which had been born out of the comm ercial success of Tin Pan Alley. Parker worked his way out of standard harmonies and chord changes through his improvisatory sk ill and dexterity. Fr eeing notes from a pre-ordained set of chord changes mimics Kaufmans attempt to break free from a Western dominated cu ltural narrative. In War Memoir: Jazz, Dont Listen To It At Your Own Risk, Kaufman makes a severe critique about World War II. The only redeeming piece of culture amidst the hideous war crimes being committed is the sound of jazz. While humans are busy killing children on deserted corner s/ Occupying their fathers, raping their mothers, and burning Japanese in atomic olorinescope, jazz brings us back to reality. Kaufman pronounces: So we sat down on our blood-soaked garments, And listened to Jazz, Lost, steeped in all our dreams We were shocked at the sound of life, long gone from our own We were indignant at the whistling, thinking, singing, beating, Swinging Living sound, which mocked us, but let us feel sweet life again (Foye 33) Jazzs regenerative possibilities are seen here. The music is a reminder of this countrys positive contributions to the world. Jazz has the power to cleanse society or at least allow it to forget the dark me mories which haunt our history (Foye 33). Kaufman is very critical of American po litics but he is prot ective of American 55


culture. His anti-southern rh etoric in The Ancient Rain and his focus on the redeeming quality of jazz in War Memoir show that Kaufman is primarily interested in developing a new understanding of American culture. He tries to do this via a shift in political co nsciousness as well as a shift in modern poetics. In Nielsens essay, A Hard Rain: Lo oking to Bob Kaufman, he posits that Kaufman raised the body of black arts fr om within the entomb ment of modernity (136). He discusses the implications of Kaufmans postmodernism in the words of Jean-Francois Lyotard, a French writer, as the future anterior. Linguistically, this comparison is intriguing. If post-modern means something that would-have-been, the future anterior mode, than we speak of a past while also speaking of the future. This past which Kaufman is attempting to raise is the neglecte d history of black America. The future is the evolution of the Black Arts Movement and the redefining of what is considered modern. Th e antagonism between modernism and postmodernism reflects the tension that Kaufman believes is central to jazz. This is the tension between redemption (or innovation) and destruction which creates a fertile middle space of regeneration (Kohli 167). The outcome of this tension, the creative mind, is essential to jazz music. For years, jazz has been evolving into an art form seemingly without limits. Its roots in the bl ues and minstrel traditions unravel as it becomes the vehicle for interrogating raci al normativity in white subculture (Kohli 167). In Fragment from Public Secret Kaufma n presents the future anterior mode of post-modernity. He speaks of a rebellion which is simultaneously part of our past and a continuing pattern for the futu re, in other words, timeless. 56


REBEL S, WHAT ARE REBELS, HERE IN THIS LAND OF REBELLION, THE LAND THAT BEGAN WITH REBELLIONARE THEY THOSE WHOSE ACTIVITIES CAN OBJECTIVELY BE ABSORBED OR ASSIMILATED INTO PATTERNING TIME, REMEMBER IT IS NOT IMPORTANT, FOR IN THE END, THE REBEL IS TIMELESS (Foye 18) It is throughout the work of Bob Kaufma n that we find pieces of revolutionary history. In a sea of muddled news, lyi ng presidents, and ra cist propaganda, Bob Kaufman presents a perspective that does not li e. It is true-to-life art in which we can find the healing middle ground between an oppres sive past and an explosive future. Both poets in this chapter struggle with ways to define American culture. We saw how Kaufmans work is more politica lly charged than the bop prosody of Jack Kerouac. Yet both poets carry with them a fascination of Ameri can life and language. Kerouacs spontaneous poetics has a close re lation to the improvisa tory techniques of jazz. His experimental grammar and imag ery portray the multiracial society he observed throughout his travels. Both poets find expression through spontaneous poetics and experimental language. The fr ee verse style was becoming more popular during the post-modern era. Free verse is manifested differently in these poets. Whereas Kerouac focused primarily on the written word, Bob Kaufman was an oral poet for most of his life. Both poets are influenced by the jazz aes thetic yet have different perspectives on the music. We can see this through th eir treatment of jazz as subject matter. Kaufman makes more explicit claims about the role of jazz in society. Jazz is part of Kaufmans political agenda. The music is an anthem for a new America in which 57


black histor y is reclaimed. Kerouac treats the music as part of the milieu rather than as revolutionary sound. Nevertheless, we stil l find in Kerouacs poetry a digestion of the rhythmic and stylistic qualities of jazz. These poets were on the cusp of postmodernism and their experiments with language reflect this. The leftist agenda of the counterculture becomes more explicit as th e post-modern era dawns. In the following chapter, we will discuss how the new wave of jazz poetry continues to define American culture. 58


Chapter Three: The Black Arts Movement an d Post-Modernism The poets focused on in this chapter as well as the musicians are artists of the Black Arts Movement. The Black Arts Movement follows the period between 1940 and 1950 when artists were exploring avan t-garde techniques such as automatic writing and surrealist imagery. Th ese techniques were not co nfined to the avant-garde movement; however, they became popular durin g this era mainly through The Beat Generation. By the 1960s, conflict within the United States was coming to a climax. The Civil Rights Movement, led by activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conferen ce and Malcom X, were making political demands long overdue. It was the era of segregation, black power, and militant nationalism. Peaceful protests and violent rioting were both attempts to reclaim control over the physical and personal oppre ssions black people were facing. The Black Panthers, as well as other liberation parties, were spokespersons for violent activism (Austin 89-90). The idea being that if demands were not met, action was necessary, even if violent. The Panthers, along with many black Americans, felt that white police forces unjustly victimized them (Austin 52). It was time to take security and policing into their hands. The artists of the Black Arts Movement were profoundly radicalized by this political atmosphere. Avant-garde ideas were ripe for radicaliz ation as well. As we saw earlier in the writings of Kerouac, the beat style was dominated by a fascination with altering 59


reality, o r at least escaping it. Imaginati on was the primary subject for many beat poets. In contrast to this st yle, Black Arts poets, especially Amiri Baraka, began to fuse postmodern techniques with a radical political agenda. William J. Harris calls this process literary patricide (Harris 29) The only way to recreate values is to revolt against ones literary forbearers. Bara ka was attracted to the parallels between avant-garde counterculture and his experience as a mi nority. Nevertheless, these writers proved to not be revolutionary e nough. The beat poets were still immersed in Western art tradition and were generally apolitical. Yet, the postmodern poetic techniques themselves were quite revolut ionary: a renunciation of form, irregular meter, stream of consciousness writing, and to some degree violent revolutionary images. Harris asserts that the ad option of these techniques by Black Arts writers completed the essential ideas of the avan t-garde by giving it a concrete radical platform (31). This platform mimics the demands of the Civil Rights Movement, but goes even further into our constructed ideas of the origins of art and culture. The idea of a future anterior mentioned in chapter two relates to the goals of the Black Arts Movement. These writers are asking the question about what would have been if an alternate perspective on histor y and civilization was develope d. It is also about what has been and the implications this constitu tes for our future. The black artist in the post-modern era needs to establish his/he r position not only as post-modern but premodern (Harris 67). The Black Arts Movement demanded recognition of black history as an infl uential civilization. 60


The Black Arts Movem ent also saw a transition in the development of jazz. The music was evolving towards an even freer understanding of harmony and rhythm through the modal experiment of John Coltr ane and Miles Davis (Jost 18-19). Ornette Colemans album Free Jazz (1960) provided the name for the brand of jazz developing in the 1950s. His band and The Cecil Taylor Quartet were among the early innovators of this style. Sun Ra, a nother pioneer of free jazz, uses Egyptian hieroglyphics and imagery to acknowledge th e suppressed history of African letters and literacy. In Blutopia Graham Lock explains, White denial of black existence was undoubtedly part of the reality that Ra was tryi ng to oust, as was white denial of black history (e.g., Egypt) and white denial of black access to th e future (e.g., outer space) (61). It is possible to see Ras eccentric mode of performance including lavish costumes, collective improvisation, dancing, an d strange oratorical proclamations as a way to step outside re ality. Yet, the alternative realit y of Sun Ras mythology actually contains a serious re-evalua tion of history. As a black American born in a segregated society, Sun Ra found that European hi stories dominated the black community, specifically through the Christia n church, and also via names, which rather than being African were European in origin. Sun Ras complaint against the Judeo-Ch ristian version of black history is in part due to its neglect of Egyptian histor y. The exodus myth of Moses leaving Egypt became extremely prominent in the black ch urch for obvious parallels it shared with the slaves. The exodus myth continued to function as a parallel to black history during the Great Migration northward. Furt hermore, activists and preachers during 61


the Civil Rights Movement used the exodus m yth to rally support for resistance against oppression. The folly with the exodus myth is that it forces AfricanAmericans to associate the Pharaoh and ancient Egypt with oppression and Moses with liberation. The alternative myth which Sun Ra wishes to espouse is the complete opposite. Ancient Egypt and the Pharaoh are sources of black beauty and contain a deep and rich history. Moses, according to Sun Ra, was a dictator, a murderer, a liar, and a deceiver (21). Lock puts it concisely: This extraordinary attack on Moses takes us to what I see as the crux of Sun Ras disagreement with the church an d its Judeo-Christia n mythology: that by causing African Americans to identify with the Old Testament stories of the Israelites, it has trapped them in a fals e history and, in doing so, cut them off from their true historical legacy, the black civilization of Egypt, which first gave beauty and culture to the world. (21) Graham Lock explains Sun Ras strate gy as similar to deformation (64). Sun Ra displays African ancestry rather than masking it. Sun Ras mythology promotes a new understanding of African history. It places Egyptian civilization at the center of a literary and musical lineage. Much in the same way that Brown and Hughes use folk material as a basis for their work, Sun Ra uses Egyptian mythology to show the African roots of black literacy, music, and modernism. Similar to the way bebop deformed western tonal music, free jazz c ontinues to deform western systems through Sun Ra. Amiri Baraka also uses Egyptian imag ery in his own work. Barakas first Motown recording, Its Nation Time is a collection of poetry described on the cover 62


as African Visionary M usic. The cover includes Barakas full Muslim name, Imamu Amiri Baraka, along with images of pyramids and the poets own rendering of hieroglyphics. Nielsen describes these hi eroglyphics as the poets attempt to reinscribe Egyptian writing in an African context from which it had been torn by post-Tut modernist Egyptomania ( Integral 140). The poets of the Black Arts era and free jazz musicians shared a pa rallel political platform. These poets found that language itself creat es race and specifically the content of that language. Race is not a genetic f actor but a mode of being in the world, a social relationship, a language reified (Integral 125). It was crucial for poets during this period to re-evaluate the language and im ages they used in terms of an alternate history. Alternate history is not only a realization of new facts but the realization of another system of thought. Slave history in Am erica forces us to see how an alternate system can exist. During slavery, laws prev ented slaves from r ecording their language in writing and hence an alternative fo rm of communication, primarily oral, took precedence. The emphasis on the oral is pres ent in so much black literature and poetry. Nielsen notes that the slave syst em in America produced an oddity of matrilineal inheritance in a patriarchical society ( Integral 126). The alternative to patriarchical systems stems from the child ren of white men and black women, whom rather than inheriting their fath ers status, were forced to retain their mothers status due to the one-drop rule. These alternativ e histories pose a thre at to the status quo and from their violence they produce so mething revolutionary. In the following chapter, we will examine the nuances of this radical post-modern platform through the work of two poets: Amiri Baraka and Jayne Cortez. 63


Amiri Bara ka Amiri Baraka, formerly known as LeRoi Jones, has gone through many transformations. Born Everett LeRoy Jones in 1934, he attended elementary and high school in Newark, New Jersey. Jones consid ered his up-bringing middle class and he received an education in a mainly white/Italian high school. When he attended Howard University (1952-1954) he became convinced that the education system there was filled with middle class values and Ne gro self-hatred (Harris 4). At Howard, Jones studied jazz with Sterling Brown. Surprisingly, the University refused to sanction classes on jazz so Brown taught outside the classroom. Jones flunked out before graduation due to hi s conviction that academia was stale and wrought with contradictions. From 1954-1957, Jones enlisted in the Ai r Force as a sergeant. He attended meteorological school near Chi cago and visited the city often. It was during this time that he devoured large amounts of liter ature and began developing his views on traditional literature and establishment aesth etics (5). William J. Harris, in his discussion of Barakas poetry, explains how the poet developed an alternative aesthetic. This aesthetic is called either a black or jazz aesthetic and is used by Baraka to reformulate the establishmen t aesthetic. After being dishonorably discharged from the Air Force, Jones m oved to Greenwich Village where he was immersed in the American avant-garde scene. 64


This period of Jones writing is heavily in fluenced by the beat style. It has few of the political overtones of his later work and focuses on the poet as observer of a som ewhat fantastical reality. Much like we saw in Kerouacs work, the beat style is characterized by obscure references and de tailed images. It takes much from the imagist movements in France and dada-surre alism. Jones published a few journals od beat literature duri ng this time including Yugen and Floating Bear His apartment on 20th St. was an active spot for poetry readings parties, and house guests. The journals included many beat writers including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Frank OHara, Charles Olson, and Edward Dorn. In 1960, Jones took a visit to Cuba whose political situat ion left a profound effect on him. Jones saw a young generation politically involved and motivated to make change in their country. Jones saw connections between the black plight in America and the Cuban revolu tion. Harris notes this trip as the crucial moment of Jones turn away from the avant-garde. He began to think of the bohemian culture as petty, self-involved, and t oo concerned with images. The drug cult, delinquency, and general air of apathy we re not the makings of a revolution. Harris explains that Baraka discovered the importance of politically-engaged art and the egotistical irrelevance of soul-searchi ng art (7). By 1964, Jones had won the Obie Award for his play The Dutchman The sudden acclaim left Baraka with doubts about his allegiance to the black race (8-9). He fe lt that acclaim in the white world meant betraying the struggles of bl ack people. These conflicting loyalties are explored in another work published earlier the same year, The Dead Lecturer. The result of this was a change in Jones lifestyle. He left New York and his white wife, Hettie Cohen, 65


and m oved back to Newark. Before leav ing Harlem, he founded the Black Arts Repetory School (BARTS), which focused on ed ucation in the arts and black theatre. It inspired similar school across the country in Washington D.C., Detriot, Philadelphia, and the West Coast. In 1967, LeRoi Jones officially changed his name to Amiri Baraka, meaning blessed prince in Bantu. He had returned to Newark at this point and met Sylvia Robinson, who was to become Amin a Baraka, and co-publisher of The Music. Baraka was in his cultural nationalist phase at th is point. He published social essays in Home and a myriad of Black Nati onalist poetry collections, Black Magic (1969) In Our Terribleness (1970) Its Nation Time and others. By 1974, however, Baraka was renouncing nationalism in favor of Marxist socialism (Harris 10). His activism had created a new desire in him to reach beyond a purely race-bound view of society. Racism was the cause of many problems but it was also caused by larger systems of control. Marxism provided a framework for analyzing the role of class and international economics in society. Harris sees Barakas radical politics stemming from his jazz aesthetic. Jazz music reflects the same principles as dada-surrealism in its violent attempt to dismantle our experiences of everyday life. The jazz which Baraka associated with lends itself to this violent restructuring principle. Harris says, Baraka adopted the aggressive strain that he sees embodied especially in tenor saxophonist John Coltrane but also in such figures as Bessie Smith and saxophonist Charlie Parker and in such movements as bop, hard bop, and new wave (14). In these genres of jazz, the musicians were effectively destroying a weak Western form, the popular song. The 66


experience o f hearing John Coltrane play My Favorite Things or Nature Boy is almost violent as he destroys the melody line through aggressive improvisation. Coltranes style of playing notes backwards and upside down reflected an attempt to find a new definition of reality and ethni c identity (Harris 14). Bara ka mimics the technique of Coltrane in his reworking of avant-ga rde poetry into a jazz aesthetic. Many of his poems pay homage to the main innovators of bop. In I Love Music, Baraka slowly dissects a quote by John Coltrane. The central theme, or motif, is what Trane sd, namely that he wanted to be a force for real good. Baraka takes this quote from Coltrane to mean something extremely profound: deep deep deep expression deep can be capitalism dying, can be all, see, aggggeeeeoooo. aggrggrrgeeeoouuuu. ( The Music 47) The poem strays into screeching sounds mimicking the saxophone itself. It is as if the scatting in Hughes Montage has gone to a new level. They are associated with a political agenda in both instances. For Hughes, bebop reflected the anger of black soldiers returning from WWII as we ll as the false expe ctation of northern freedom. It also was clearly connected to the commoditization of swing and disenfranchisement of black musicians. Here, we see Baraka connecting Coltranes music to the death of capitalism. If the music is not directly active in ending imperialist systems, it still represents the desire to do so, at least for Baraka. The sounding of nonsense syllables is no longer a m astery of form. Baraka is not using the theatrics of minstrelsy as a way to co mmunicate to a white audience. He is clearly 67


defor ming the use of nonsense syllables by making them a tool of revolution rather than merely a reference to the minstrel st ereotype. Deformation, as we have seen, is no longer only about the use of white form s but a fusion of the white avant-garde technique with black cultural symbols. Bara ka goes even further with this idea of deformation. Rather than deforming wh ite avant-garde techniques he actually claims them as black ideas in the firs t place. By using Egyptian imagery and exploring the alternative histor ies of black civilization, Bara ka asserts that the course of western art and civilization have been influence by black culture. This harkens back to the ideas of Lyotard discusse d by Nielsen. Lyotard was influenced by American and Caribbean radicals, specifi cally the writer and philosopher C.L.R James. His idea of the future anterior was similar to James discussion of the African influence on Western modernity, s een in the works of Pablo Picasso and others (A Hard Rain Nielsen 138). Barakas leftist politics asserts that these black cultural symbols are an alternative to the western system rather than just an opposing force. Black cultural symbols, specifically jazz, represent an alternative mode of consciousness, an alternative politics, and an a lternative view of history. Free jazz or third stream music are deformations in the sense that they take jazz principles and mould them into new systems. Bebop took swing and began to speed up the chord changes. It used improvisation to push the harmonic extremes of the melody. In Ekkhard Josts book Free Jazz he explains how Coltrane used the up per intervals of chord structures in his solos where more dissonant overtones ex ist. Hard bop, and eventually free jazz, created new systems of music making a ltogether. New ways of collectively 68


im provising were developed in groups like th e Cecil Taylor Unit, Ornette Colemans quartet, and in Charles Mingus big ba nd. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk were explor ing the possibilitie s of modal music making. The idea of a functional harmony was deteriorating in favor of the idea of a tonal center in which the music does not necessarily stay in one key or one mode, but leans toward a tone, for example Db, as its home base (Jost 50-51). Barakas jazz aesthetic is similar to the model of free jazz. Free jazz takes standard principles and continues to innovate on them and mould them into new ideas. Baraka takes the techniques of beat poetry and moulds them to fit his radical pol itical agenda. His lef tist agenda is best seen in the following poem. In reggae or not! published in 1981, Bara ka lyrically raps about the musical forces at work in the world. He works to fuse the histories of Afro-America with the political struggles of Marxism. There is an antagonism in Reggae between the real revolutionaries and those whom are fa king. Barak specifically calls out Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the S oviet Community party from 1960-1980. Barakas leftist politics are more focused on reform at the local level. He voices his discontent with Brezhnevs politics in the Soviet Government: and all the little multi-colored brezhnev clones masquerading as radicals telling persons they revolutionaries beyond all the little latest generati on of human failure pettybourgeois explainers of the bullshit, beyond ever ything but what will last what is real, what the people will make and de mand, what they are and have been, there is Self Determination and Revolution 69


There is Rev olution and Self Determination ( The Music 91). The following phrase appears period ically throughout the poem with directions to sing: Self-determination & Revolution Revolution &Self determination ( The Musi c 92) Baraka is no doubt referring to the deco lonization process occurring across the African continent. Self-determination was one of the main demands of the colonized countries. It is also one of the main princi ples in Barakas poem. Baraka is not shy about his view on the alligators that represent capitalists. They are the alligators in disguise of the hiptime and later, fake communists, sham revolutionaries. Baraka is making a call to action. In reggae, Ba raka unabashedly addresses the bourgeois, not only white but black. In a harsh att ack, he singles out a contemporary black novelist, Ishmael Reed, calling him a lyin ni gger and preaches for a world beyond the male chauvinism and baby actin niggers who want disco to substitute for their humanity & struggle ( The Music 89). Another important aspect of Barakas poetr y seen above is his distrust of disco music. He views disco as a materialistic and commercialized genre of music. We begin to see again the tension in black music between popularization and innovation. Clearly, Baraka considers free jazz to be a legitimate black art form whereas disco is the perverted form of black music. Throughout The Music, Baraka makes judgments on the Disco Funk genre. Given the fairly recent development of this genre in music 70


history, Barakas critical perspective is wo rth considering. In contrast to Barakas praise po ems for jazz musicians, he seems to be picking a bone with funk musicians of the 1970s. In Caution: A Disco Near You Wails Death Funk, Baraka cautions his audience against the materialis m of funk. He criticizes bassist and bandleader, Bootsy Collins, a central figure in the funk music scene: Boodsie in the u.n. purple bloomersflaming funkdumb boodsie wail yr tired tail of white ladies spreading money in the sack ( The Music 58) In Caution, he addresses the disco lady and the party-goers who seem to forget their history in the sw irl of the disco ball. The poe m begins with a metaphorical description of sequins on the disco ladies costumes. The sequins are The bullets holes in Malcom (Baraka 57). The harsh in terpretation of disco music reinforces Barakas political agenda on ce again. His main concern is that the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement will not be forgotte n once its leaders are gone and its heyday has passed. It is important to the poet th at we do not let this recent history be shrouded by the fantasies of Western consumer culture. Ba raka feels that funk music has fallen prey to the white media-making image machine. Like swing in the past, funk has become part of the commercial music industry. There is no question that Baraka is us ing an aggressive technique to get through to his readers. He is trying to in cite his audience to political action. The audience is not the colonizer, but the co lonized. He uses extreme imagery and language as if to say to the black and white masses wake up! Although Barakas views cannot be forced on a ll parties, his method of deliv ery is an attempt to do so. 71


My personal opinion is that Barakas prim ar y concern is awakening in his audience a political awareness and activism which is latent. And although hi s delivery offends some, Baraka succeeds in making his reader take a second glance at the world. Jayne Cortez Jayne Cortezs revolutionary poetics ar e similarly inspired by the Black Arts Movement. Cortezs poetics e xplore the similarities between Third World politics and the black Diaspora. She is less concerned with the refashioning of white avant-garde techniques, although she does participate in this sty listic movement. Her poetry focuses on resurrecting the blues lyric we saw in both Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown. According to Tony Bolden, Cortez succ eeds in resurrecting the blues lyric as resistance poetics. It is easy to lump the bl ues into a standard set of lyrics about love and loss. But, Cortez reinstates the blue s as a powerful te stament of AfricanAmerican will and resistance against wh ite oppression. In the poem You Know, Cortez addresses this stereotype of the blues: you know if i could write a blues you know a blues without the popula r use of the word love you know without running love lo ve love in the ground you know 72


a serious blues ( Jazz Fan 36) The poem is a good example of the riff-chorus employed by black preachers. The riff interchanges with an antiphonal line in the same call-and-response format that is prominent between a preacher a nd congregation (Bolden 64). The main riff lays down a steady rhythm that Bolden co mpares to a walking bass line. The steady rhythm lays the foundation for solo impr ovisations. The poem uses this antiphonal structure to relate the blues to the pre achers sermon. Often times the association between blues and religious music is taboo gi ven the stereotype of the blues as devil music. Cortez attempts to strip the blues of its stereotypes and reconnect it to the black working class. She seeks to fuse the role of the blues musician and the preacher in order to show that the blues can deliver critical messages about society. It is not merely a form of entertainment or a narra tive about love. Cortez questions the fact that a blues must be a pre-ordained form confined to conventional subject matter. The blues poem no longer is subjected to the tr aditional stanza or the hegemony of a script-centered poetics (Bolden 62). Cortez resurrects the blues creative process and its improvisatory flavor by fusing it with the preachers style of performance. Furthermore, Cortez attaches important political messages in her blues inspired poetry. She believes that the blues idiom has the potential to create social change. Much of Cortez work is dedicated to a radical internationalist politics shaped by the specific historicity of the African-A merican experience and committed to the liberation of colonized subject s globally (Bolden 62). In Jazz Fan Looks Back Cortez gives us a powerful example of her re volutionary blues. I Got The Blue-Ooze 73


93 inf uses the resistance tradition with an environmental awareness and a thirdworld critique: I got the blue-ooze I got the fishing in raw sewage blue-ooze I got the toxic waste dump in my backyard blue-ooze I got the contaminated drinking water blue-ooze And later, I got the sleeping in a cardboard box waiting for democracy to hit blue-ooze I got the five hundred year black hostage colonialism never stops blue-ooze ( Jazz Fan 6061) Cortezs political agenda is explicit here. Like Baraka, she promotes selfdetermination. The blues idiom is used to resist the oppressive po litics of colonialism and the failure of democratic governments Cortezs blues poet ry is drastically different from what we saw in Hughes or Brown. She borrows from the surrealist style and avant-garde techniques rather th an folk forms (Bolden 64). In this way, Cortez fuses western prosody with the blues idiom. Yet, as we can also see in BlueOoze Cortez fuses the style of the preacher in to her blues idiom. The repetition of I got the functions again as a riff-chor us antiphonal line. Unlike Langston Hughes or Sterling Brown, Cortez uses the techniques of gospel preaching in her blues. This contributes to a different kind of fusion between the blues tradition and western prosody. By infusing the preacher style, Cortez pushes the connections between 74


secular folk music, religious m usic, and modern poetry. By making these connections, she breaks down our preconcepti ons of both the blues tradition and the range of modern poetics. Bolden considers this her greatest ac hievement, namely, the production of a syncretized form that blends oral forms like blues music and the sermon with the notion of literature as scri pt (70). While Cortezs scri pts demonstrate the syncretism of oral forms with post-modern poetic te chnique, her performances exemplify this syncretism even more. Cortezs style of performance is strongly influenced by the blues as well as free jazz. Her band, The Firespitters, provides accompaniment to her poetic verses in the style of free jazz. So me members of The Firespitters, including her son Denardo Coleman, were members of Ornette Colemans Prime Time band. The influence of free jazz is present in her sound poetics and the freedom of the melodic line. Ornette Coleman is known for his innovations in free jazz, specifically in regards to horiz ontal melody lines. In Charles Hartmans Jazz Poetics he describes how Coleman frees the melody in his origin al tune Lonely Woman. The melody in Lonely Woman is not constrained by the harmony of the rhythm section. It functions with a tonal center. Furthermore, the melody is free rhythmically. Rather than functioning as a subdivision of the rhythm laid down by bass and drums, the melody is the larger metrical unit. It is play ed at a free tempo almost twice as slow as the rhythm section (Hartman 63). In Cortezs performances, she uses he r voice as an instrument to command responses from her band. Her voice works as if in call-and-response format rather than via a specified rhythmic pattern or s ubdivision of the bands rhythm. Her choice 75


of pronunciation and vocal effects signal m u sical cues that the band responds to (Bolden 64). Her style of melody construction is similar to Ornette Colemans idea of a free melody. Cortezs use of tonal semantic s is best explored in Aldon Nielsens essay Capillary Currents. Nielsen analyzes the poem I See Chano Pozo which Cortez wrote and performed at the Chano Pozo Festival at Dartmouth in 1980. The performance follows standard free jazz principles as Ni elsen describes: There is a discernable tonal reference poi nt, but we seem to be free of strict key. Bass and guitar refuse to fall into the usual gestures of accompaniment. Rather, each independently ca rves in air series of seri ous notes, selected with an ear to what the other is doing but never settling into the prefabricated chord that an audience might intuit. ( Integral Music 174) One of the defining features of free ja zz is this idea of a tonal reference point. Within this framework, the musician s are free to react to the poem as Cortez reads it. Likewise, Cortezs poem itself is a reaction to the history of jazz music. Nielsen picks out two uses of tonal sema ntics in the poem. The first is Cortezs pronunciation of Chano by first using an Am erican accent as in Chay-no and then the proper Spanish accent. Nielsen describes these vocal pronunciations as closing the harmolodic discrepancies between Cuba no music and the jazz of Ornette Coleman. Harmolodics was a term used by Ornette Coleman to describe the combination of horizontal and vertical movement in a piece of music. Whereas the vertical movement defines the chord structure, the horizontal movement is freer to create a melody line. The combination of these into harmolodi cs is meant to emphasize the soloists 76


freedom He or she is not restricted to vert ical harmonies but can step outside them at anytime (Hartman 64). The discrepancy that Nielsen is referri ng to is the history of embargos waged on the music and culture of Cuba. Cortezs praise of Chano Pozo reminds the audience of the shared hist ory between Cuban music a nd New Orleans jazz. Chano Pozo became the first conguero to play with a big band in the late 1950s. He is most well-known for his collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie. Cuban musicians have had a notoriously difficult entering the American music scene or public consciousness. Only by the 1950s, were American jazz musicians assisting and helping Cuban musicians tour and perform in the United Stat es. Nielsen discusses the long history of embargo which prevented popular bands incl uding Buena Vista Social Club and Los Van Van from touring the United States. Ot her Cuban musicians either faced hostile crowds of Cuban exiles protes ting their presence or were not allowed to play for pay. Despite these sanctions, American jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Haden, and others successfully introduced Cuban musicians to the American public. Nielsen states That American officials went to such lengths to keep Cuban arts out of the United States, while presumably keeping their arms wide open in welcome to any Cuban willing to permanently separate themselves from their island, is testimony to their knowledge of both th e powers of Cuban cultural innovation and the willingness of an unembargoed American mind to lend an ear. ( Integral 177) 77


Nielsen con siders Cortezs poem a retu rn to and a reminder of the AfricanCaribbean connection already present in the structures of jazz. Cortez is not only reminding the audience of the Pozo-Gillespie connection but makes a deeper connection with African ancestr al spirits and the conguero: Youre the one who made Atamo into A tattooed motivator of revolutionary spirits Youre the one who made Mpebi into An activated slasher of lies Youre the one who made Donno into An armpit of inflammable explosives ( Jazz Fan 32) By associating the conguero with African mythology, Cortez is claiming an anterior history of jazz music. Cortez s content is meant to re-awaken the connection to Cuban music which had existed before the collaborat ions of the late 1950s. Historically, Cuban independence led to a flood of immigrants to New Orleans in the 1880s. The introduction of Yoruba and Carabali rhythm s, common in Cuban music, augmented the other African rhyt hms found in New Orleans including Congo and Dahomey (178). Nevertheless, Cortez s ees these connections as reaching much farther back than Cuban independence. The black Cuban slaves and the slaves in America had both carried with them traditional African music. The appearance of Cuban rhythms into jazz during the 1960s is less an innovation than a re-emergence of origins. 78


Cortez continues to emphasis these c onnections through another use of tonal semantics. The poem plays with the sounds of ole, okay, and oye throughout the poem. The words appear next to each ot her and as an assonant rhyme with other words. In one section, Cortez riffs on the words: Is there anyone finer today ole okay Oye I say I see Chano Pozo (Jazz Fan 32) Cortezs tonal semantics are signifyi ng a cultural syncretism between the Spanish ole and the American okay. Oka y is considered by linguistic to have West African origins as well. Her ambigu ity and lack of punctuation signify the subterranean capillary network that conjoins continents and epoc hs (183). Cortezs experimentation with langua ge leads us to understand th e syncretism of American English. As we have seen, Cortez not only reach es back to the roots of American folk tradition in her poetics but also encompasses a larger world history. Cortez is one jazz poet who attempts to take on a serious cri tique of globalization and capitalism. In a more comprehensive study of her work, it w ould be worthwhile to look at her view on nature and third world politics, specifically in South America. As a female poet, Cortez contribut es to our understanding of the jazz aesthetic. The male-dominated views on wo men are blatant in both jazz and jazz poetry. Women function as part of the milieu or as objects of pain or pleasure. Cortez addresses these issues directly in some of her poetry, specifically in If the Drum is a Woman, a poetic response to the Duke Ellington composition What Else Can You Do With A Drum. The piece is narrated as well as sung and jokingly suggests that 79


wom en should be beaten (Bol den 67). Cortezs poem is a response to this jazz piece and the assumption that woman is an object like a drum. In a longer study of her work, these are the issues which would be most relevant and crucial to a fuller understanding of jazz poetry. 80


Conclusion In conclusion, these six poets exem plify the evolution of jazz poetics since the 1920s. I choose these poets in order to show the various perspectives the genre can encompass. The differences between the poe ts were highlighted for this reason. In chapter one, we saw an alternative to th e Harlem Renaissance perspective embodied by Langston Hughes. The Renaissance was prim arily interested in developing a black aesthetic that borrowed from folk culture bu t was also separated from it and therefore more modern, hence the notion of the N ew Negro. There ex isted a fear of associating with rural culture Many black Americans left the South in order to free themselves from segregation and racist stereotypes. Sterling Brown, however, finds power in acknowledging and preserving southe rn folk idioms and stories. Remaining close to historical roots is a way to lay claim to ones identi ty and country. Brown found this the most pressing issue and dedicated his life work to this alternative conception of the black aesthetic. Bob Kaufman and Jack Kerouac were sim ilarly involved in an era of artistic renewal. Both poets were prominent in th e early counterculture of bohemia America. Yet, their ethnic backgrounds influenced thei r respective interpreta tions of American culture as well as their public reception. B ob Kaufmans social status was far more nebulous than Kerouac. This is undoubtedly due to the perception of race in America. Furthermore, Kaufman makes no secret about his feelings of disenfranchisement with the political system in America. His violen t and abusive run-ins with the law as well 81


as rejection by academ ia place him in a far different position than Kerouac. Kerouac received better public recep tion but also dealt with cr itical views on his unorthodox style. Although he lived a bohemian existence of homelessness and travel, Kerouac dealt with much less police harassment. His poetics reveal the fact that his social status was less politically charged than Kaufman. Amiri Baraka was on the cusp of a new generation of jazz poets. He learned much from the Beat Movement and avan t-garde innovations in poetry. Much of Barakas work deals with reconciling these poe tic styles with the politics of the Civil Rights era and his own activism. Jayne Cortez follows in Barakas footsteps to some extent but has her own interpretation of postmodernism and Black Art. Cortez is more interested in the multi-faceted connections between the black experience in America and across the world. Unlike Baraka, she does not search for a totalizing definition for a radical political platform in the ideas of militant nationalism or Marxism. Cortezs radical politics are more fluid and she pinpoints the issue of globalization. I wanted to show how the diverse ba ckgrounds of these authors affect their understanding of jazz. As was discussed in the previous chapter, each author has a new and unique interpretation of jazz as we ll as a different use of the blues form. Improvisation plays an important role in all of these poet s techniques. References to jazz musicians and trivia abound in their work. At a glance, we have seen how pervasive jazz is in American culture a nd how it can contribute to our identity through poetry. There were many other aspects of jazz poetry I did not have the chance to explore. I am particularly interested in the racial and political dimensions of jazz 82


poetry. The thesis d eals with these issues often but, in some regard, only skims the surface. Throughout my research, I ran into a few mentions of the philosophical dimensions behind the black aesthetic. In Blues People Amiri Baraka suggests that there has existed a philosophical divide be tween African-Americans and their white counterparts since slavery (7). In my brief discussion of the future anterior, I touch upon the alternative conceptions of hi story and modernism which a deeper understanding of black civiliza tion can bring to light. In Integral Music, Nielsen also touches upon these philosophical divides. He suggests that The Black Aesthetic is anti-Kantian in that the Black Aesthetic beli eves art should act in the world and that there are political criteria for judging art (13). The overt political agenda of jazz poets is another example of this difference. The definition of Western aesthetics, as art for arts sake, differs greatly from the idea of a politically involved art. African philosophy is drastically different from our mode of understanding in Western philosophy, which relies heavily on dualisms. In his essay Consciousness Redoubled, Kramer suggests an alternat ive to the European derived trope of universal splitting claiming that Western dualism does not hold tr ue in all cultures. He says: At least since Rene Descartes, cons ciousness doubled his meant consciousness divided. Doubling has meant splitting, splitting has meant alienation, and alienation has meant the need to restor e a lost original unity. (Kramer 1) For Kramer, the concept of double does not necessarily require the idea of unity. He states African-American subjectiv ity was never an original unity but an original kind of doubleness (2). There wa s never an original unity, or a unified 83


cultu re, for the slaves which came to the New World. The American folk traditions that developed out of this consciousness posit a future unity which never before existed. If I continue to study jazz poets, I would like to explore th e role that different philosophical perspectives play in their work. 84


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