Archive for the 'Jazz' Category

Gwendolyn Brooks

May 9, 2007


Grew up in Chicago
Appointed poet laureate of Illinois
Became the first African American woman to be appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress
Married to Henry Blakely and had a son and daughter
Often presents the characters of local people
Poetry is direct but sly and ironic
Determined to represent everyday lives of African American city dwellers in her work


We real cool. We/ Left school. We
Lurk late. We/ Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We/ Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We/ Die soon.

-We Real Cool (in whole)

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

Without my having known./ Policeman said, next morning,/ “Apparently died Alone.”/ “You heard a shot?” Policeman said./ Shots I hear and Shots I hear./ I never see the dead.
The Shot that killed him yes I heard/ as I heard the Thousand shots before;/ careening tinnily down the nights/ across my years and arteries.
Policeman pounded on my door./ “Who is it?” “POLICE!” Policeman yelled./ “A Boy was dying in your alley./ A Boy is dead, and in your alley./ And have you known this Boy before?”
I have known this Boy before./ I have known this Boy b efore, who/ ornaments my alley./ I never saw his face at all./ I never saw his futurefall./ But I have known this Boy.
I have always heard him deal with death./ I have always heard the shout, the volley./ I have closed my heart-ears late and early./ And I have killed him ever.
I joined the Wild and killed him/ with knowledgeable unknowing./ I saw where he was gong./ I saw him Crossed. And seeing,/ I did not take him down.
he cried not only “Father!”/ but “Mother!/ Sister!/ Brother.”/ The cry climbed up the alley./ It went up to the wind./ It hung upon the heaven/ for a long/ stretch-strain of Moment.
The red floor of my alley/ is a special speech to me.

-The Boy Died in My Alley (in whole)

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair./ Dinner is a casual affair./ Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,/ Tin flatware.
Two who are Mostly Good./ Two who have lived their day,/ But keep on putting on their clothes/ And putting things away.
And remembering…/ Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,/ As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vaces and fringes.

-The Bean Eaters (in whole)

Whose broken window is a cry of art/ (success, that winks aware/ as elegance, as a treasonable faith)/ is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed premiere./ Our beautiful flaw and terrible ornament./ Our barbarous and metal little man.
“I shall create! If not a note, a hole./ If not an overture, a desecration.”
Full of pepper and light/ and Salt and night and cargoes.
“Don’t go down the plank/ if you see there’s no extension./ Each to his grief, each to/ his loneliness and fidgety revenge.
Nobody knew where I was and now I am no longer there.”
The only sanity is a cup of tea./ The music is in minors.
Each one other/ is having different weather.
“It was you, it was you who threw away my name!/ And this is everything I have for me.”
Who has not Congress, lobster, love, luau,/ the Regency Room, the Statue of Liberty,/ runs. A sloppy amalgamation./ A mistake./ A cliff./ A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun.

-Boy Breaking Glass (in whole)

To Marc Crawford from whom the commission


Langston Hughes

October 17, 2006


Major American poet, leading name in Harlem Renaissance poetry, premier poet of political left, international poet
Born in Joplin, Missouri in a racially segregated society where lynching was a growing problem
Wrote more than 20 poems on lynching alone
Descended from a distinguished abolitionist African-American family
Held long term same-sex relationships
Strongly influenced by a diverse range of poets: Edgar Lee Masters, Vachel Lindsay, Amy Lowell, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman
Captivated by African-American singers more than any writer
Attended columbia University for one year, but spent the time exploring the world of Harlem
Unlike most poets, was able to support himself through writing
Traveled as a journalist to Spain during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39
Notably inventive in his use of culural styles and materials in poetry: adapted blues and jazz forms as well as oral traditions
Paired poetry with illustrations to tell stories more vividly
Relied on performing arts and drama to create a multi-voiced poetry
Investigated by FBI because of campaigns against lynching and leftist affiliations during the Cold War: not permitted to assume position of Poet Laureate
Forced to tone down politics in poetry and could not travel outside the country until 1960
Became the image of a poet who combines artistic innovation and vitality with joyful humor and humanity and the effective expression of social justice


Oh, silver tree! / Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
In a Harlem cabaret / Six long-headed jazzers play. / A dancing girl whose eyes are bold / Lifts high a dress of silken gold.
Oh, singing tree! / Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
Were Eve’s eyes / In the first garden / Just a bit too bold? / Was Cleaopatra gorgeous / In a gown of gold?
Oh, shining tree! / Oh, silver rivers of the soul!
In a whirling cabaret / Sing long-headed jazzers play.

-Jazzonia (in whole)

An attempt to adapt jazz to poetry

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 … / 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 tune like a musical fool. / Sweet Blues! / Coming from a black man’s soul. / O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone / I head that Negro sing, that old piano moan – / ‘Ain’t got nobody in all this world, / Ain’t got nobody but ma self. / I’s 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 then he sang some more – / ‘I got the Weary Blues / And I can’t be satisfied. / God the Weary Blues / And can’t be satisfied – / I ain’t happy no mo’ / 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 that’s dead.

-The Weary Blues (in whole)
See Poetry Speaks

Transformation of isolated pain into solace, art, and human connection

I’ve known rivers: / I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My sould has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. / I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. / I looked upon the Nile and Raised the pyramids above it. / I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down th New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers: / Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

-The Negro Speaks of Rivers (in whole)
See Poetry Speaks

One of Hughes’ first poems, written in high school

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother. / They send me to eat in the kitchen / When company comes, / But I laugh, / And eat well, / And grow strong.
Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table / When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare / Say to me, / ‘Eat in the kitchen,’ / Then.
Besides, / They’ll see how beautiful we are / And be ashamed-
I, too, am America.

-I, too (in whole)
See Poetry Archive

Compare to Walt Whitman’s “I Hear American Singing”

Oh, wash-woman / Arms elbow-deep in white suds, / Soul washed clean, Clothes washed clean, / I have many songs to sing you / Could I but find the words.
Was it four o’clock or six o’clock on a winter afternoon, I saw you wringing out the last shirt in Miss White Lady’s kitchen? Was it four o’clock or six o’clock? I don’t remember.
But I know, at seven one spring morning you were on Vermont Street with a bundle in your arms going to wash clothes. / And I know I’ve seen you in the New York subway in the late afternoon coming home from washing clothes.
Yes, I know you, wash-woman.
I know how you send your children to school, and high-school, and even college. / I know how you work to help your man when times are hard. / I know how you build your house up from the washtub and call it home. / And how you raise your churches from white suds for the service of the Holy God.
I’ve seen you winging, wash-woman. Out in the backyard garden under the apple trees, singing, hanging white clothes on long lines in the sunshine. / And I’ve seen you in church on Sunday morning singing, praising your Jesus because some day you’re going to sit on the right hand side of the Son of God and forget you ever were a wash-woman. And the aching back and the bundles of clothes will be unremembered then.
Yes, I’ve seen you singing.
So for you, O singing wash-woman, / For you, singing little brown woman, / Singing strong black woman, / Singing tall yellow woman, / Arms deep in white suds, / Soul washed clean, / Clothes washed clean, / For you I have / Many songs to sing / Could I but find the words.

-Song to a Negro Wash-Woman (in whole)

Edna St. Vincent Millay

October 10, 2006


Major poetic voice of the rebellious Jazz Age
Hailed as the greatest female poet since Sappho of ancient Greece
Wrote for the American mass-media culture of newspapers, magazines, radio, live stage, and the national lecture circuit
Served as the personification of “The New Woman” of European-American bourgeois society
Flaunted Victorian conventions of femininity while serving as a flapper heroine and political rebel icon
Became the first woman poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry
Robert Frost viewed her as his most serious competitor: feared she would be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters ahead of him
Raised in Maine by a single mother
Educated at Vassar College
Not only a gifted poet but also a talented playwright and actress
Gained fame for public poetry readings
Master of traditional forms, sonic effects, and memorable images and phrases
Frankly expressed her sexual independence: conducted many love affairs with both men and women
Married Eugen Bossevain, widower of the great suffragist Inex Milholland
Valued for strong and accomplished voice in the traditionally male-dominated genre of sonnet, sometimes painful inward probings, and for her eloquent and outspoken assertion of her political and social beliefs


I shall forget you presently, my dear, / So make the most of this, your little day, / Your little month, your little half a year, / Ere I forget, or die, or move away, / And we are done forever; by and by / I shall forget you, as I said, but now, / If you entreat me with your loveliest lie / I will protest you with my favourite vow. / I would indeed that love were longer-lived, / And oaths were not so brittle as they are, / But so it is, and nature has contrived / To struggle on without a break thus far, – / Whether or not we find what we are seeking / Is idle, biologically speaking.

-I shall forget you presently, my dear (in whole)

Only until this cigarette is ended, / A little moment at the end of all, / While on the floor the quiet ashes fall, / And in the firelight to a lance extended, / Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended, / The broken shadow dances on the wall, / I will permit my memory to recall / The vision of you, by all my dreams attended. / And then adieu, -farewell!-the dream is done. / Yours is a face of which I can forget / The colour and the features, every one, / The words not ever, and the smiles not yet; / But in your day this moment is the sun / Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

-Only until this cigarette is ended (in whole)

We were very tired, we were very merry- / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. / Itwas bare and bright, and smelled like a stable- / But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table, / We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon; / And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
We were very tired, we were very merry- / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry; / And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear, / From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere; / And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold, / And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
We were very tired, we were very merry, / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. / We hailed, ‘Good morrow, mother!’ to a shawl-covered head, / And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read; / And she wept, ‘God bless you!’ for the apples and pears, / And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

-Recuerdo (in whole)

Based on her late-night perambulations through New York City with her fellow poet Salomon de la Selva
Recuerdo means remembrance, recollection, or souvenir in Spanish
My reflect the native language of de la Selva
Makes a point of the liberated, cosmopolitan lifestyle of Jazz Age New York and the joys of heterosexual romance
Also suggests the quiet suffering of those left behind by the economic boom

I, being born a woman and distressed / By all the needs and notions of my kind, / Am urged by your propinquity to find / Your person fair, and feel certain zest / To bear your body’s weight upon my breast: / So subtly is the fume of life designed, / To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind, / And leave me once again undone, possessed. / Think not for this, however, the poor treason / Of my stout blood against my staggering brain, / I shall remember you with love, or seas / My scorn with pity, -let me make it plain: / I find this frenzy insufficient reason / For conversation when we meet again.

-I, being born a woman and distressed (in whole)

Struggle between bodily impulses and rationality of the mind
Biological and social implications of being a woman

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, / I have forgotten, and what arms have lain / Under my head till morning; but the rain / Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh / Upon the glass and listen for reply, / And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain / For unremembered lads that not again / Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. / Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, / Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, / Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: / I only know that summer sang in me / A little while, that in me sings no more.

-What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (in whole)

My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends- / It gives a lovely light!

-First Fig (in whole)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: / Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

-Second Fig (in whole)

Was it for this I uttered prayers, / And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs, / That now, domestic as a plate, / I should retire at half-past eight?

-Grown-up (in whole)


Carl Sandburg

September 21, 2006


American poet, historian, novelist, balladeer and folklorist
Was born in Galesburg, Illinois of Swedish parents
Major Chicago poet
Poetry speaks unapologetically: direct, representative of the masses
Transforms poetry into more of a political pamphlet: changes the use of poetry
H. L. Mencken called Carl Sandburg

“indubitably an American in every pulse-beat”


Among the mountains I wandered and saw blue haze and red crag and was amazed; / On the beach where the long push under the endless tide maneuvers, I stood silent; / Under the stars on the prairie watching the Dipper slant over the horizon’s grass, I was full of thoughts. / Great men, pageants of war and labor, soldiers and workers, mothers lifting their children- these all I touched, and felt more solemn thrill of them. / And then one day I got a true look at the Poor, millions of the Poor, patient and toiling; more patient than crags, tides , and stars; innumerable, patient as the darkness of night- and all broken, humble ruins of nations.

-Masses (in whole)

Mrs. Gabrielle Giovannitti comes along Peoria Street every morning at nine o’clock / With kindling wood piled on top of her head, her eyes looking straight ahead to find the way for her old feet.
Her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti, whose husband was killed in a tunnel explosion through the negligence of a fellow-servant, / Works ten hours a day, sometimes twelve, picking onions or Jasper on the Bowmanville road. / She takes a street car at half-past five in the morning, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti does, / And gets back from Jasper’s with cash for her day’s work, between nine and ten o’clock at night. / Last week she got eight cents a box, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti, picking onions for Jasper, / But this week Jasper dropped the pay to six cents a box because so many women and girls were answering the ads in the Daily News. / Jasper belongs to an Episcopal church in Ravenswood and on certain Sundays / He enjoys chanting the Nicene creed with his daughters on each side of him joining their voices with his. / If the preacher repeats old sermons of a Sunday, Jasper’s mind wanders to his 700-acre farm and how he can make it produce more efficiently / And sometimes he speculates on whether he could word an ad in the Daily News so it would bring more women and girls out to his farm and reduce operating costs. / Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti is far from desperate about life; her joy is in a child she knows will arrive to her in three months. / And now while these are the pictures for today there are other pictures of the Giovannitti people I could give you for to-morrow, / And how some of them go to the county agent on winter mornings with their baskets for beans and cornmeal and molasses. / I listen to fellows saying here’s good stuff for a novel or it might be worked up into a good play. / I say there’s no dramatist living can put old Mrs. Gabrielle Giovannitti into a play with that kindling wood piled on top of her head coming along Peoria Street nine o’clock in the morning.
-Onion Days (in whole)

I waited today for a freight train to pass./ Cattle cars with steers butting their horns against the bars, went by./ And a half a dozen hoboes stood on bumpers between cars. / Well, the cattle are respectable, I thought. / Every steer has its transportation paid for by the farmer sending it to market, / While the hoboes are law-breakers in riding a railroad train without a ticket. / It reminded me of ten days I spent in the Allegheny County jail in Pittsburgh. / I got ten days even though I was a veteran of the Spanish-American war. / Cooped in the same cell with me was an old man, a bricklayer and a booze-fighter./ But it just happened he, too, was a veteran soldier, and he had fought to preserve the Union and free the niggers. / We were three in all, the other being a Lithuanian who got drunk on pay day at the steel works and got to fighting a police man; / All the clothes he had was a shirt, pants and shoes– somebody got his hat and coat and what money he had left over when he got drunk.

-‘Boes (in whole)

I am the people- the mob- the crowd- the mass. / Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me? / I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes. / I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns. / I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget. / Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then- I forget. / When I , the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool- then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision. / The mob- the crowd- the mass- will arrive then.

-I Am the People, the Mob (in whole)

Hog Butcher for the World, / Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, / Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; / Storny, husky, brawling, / City of the Big Shoulders: / They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys. / And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again. / And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wonton hunger. / And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and give them back the sneer and say to them: / Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning. / Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities; / Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness, / Bareheaded, / Shoveling, / Wrecking, / Planning, / Building, breaking, rebuilding, / Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth, / Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs, / Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle, / Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people, / Laughing! / Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

-Chicago (in whole)

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. / Shovel them under and let me work- / I am the grass; I cover all. / And pile them high at Gettysburg / And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. / Shovel them under and let me work. / Two years, then years, and the passengers ask the conductor: / What place is this? / Where are we now?
I am the grass. / Let me work.

-Grass (in whole)

Compare to the natural imagery in Rosenberg’s ‘Dead Man’s Dump’: what is the earth’s role in a time of war?
Is Sandburg’s poem ironic: is the grass a helpful force or a force of dangerous amnesia?

Drum on your drums, batter on your banjoes, / sob on the long cool winding saxophones. / Go to it, O jazzmen.
Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy / tin pans, let your trombones ooze, and go husha- / husha-hush with the slippery sand-paper.
Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome treetops, moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible, cry like a racing car slipping away from a motorcycle cop, bang-bang! you jazzmen, bang altogether drums, traps, banjoes, horns, tin cans – make two people fight on the top of a stairway and scratch each other’s eyes in a clinch tumbling down the stairs.
Can the rough stuff … Now a Mississippi steamboat pushes up the night river with a hoo-hoo-hoo-oo … and the green lanterns calling to the high soft stars … a red moon rides on the humps of the low river hills … go to it, O jazzmen.

Jazz Fantasia (in whole)

Jazz was still an emerging form when Sandburg wrote this poem

There was a high majestic fooling / Day before yesterday in the yellow corn.
And day after to-morrow in the yellowing corn / There will be high majestic fooling.
The ears ripen in late summer / And come on with a conquering laughter, / Come on with a high and conquering laughter.
The long-tailed blackbirds are hoarse. / One of the smaller blackbirds chitters on a stalk / And a spot of red is on its shoulder / And I never heard its name in my life.
Some of the ears are bursting. / A white juice works inside. / Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind. / Always- I never knew it any other way – / The wind and the corn talk things over together. / And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn / Talk things over together.
Over the road is the farmhouse. / The siding is white and a green blind is slung loose. / It will not be fixed till the corn is husked. / The farmer and his wife talk things over together.

-Laughing Corn (in whole)