Swinging is not a word that most people associate with poetry. Those of us who enjoy jazz poetry do.
As noted in “A Brief Guide to Jazz Poetry“, this genre is poetry that is informed by jazz. The poet may be inspired by the history of the music, the lives of musicians or elements of the music itself.
Jazz and jazz poetry grew up together in the early 20th century. During the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes began to incorporate elements of the music such as rhythm, syncopation and improvisation into his work. In the link above, you may read an excerpt from his piece, “The Weary Blues”, which is the title poem of his collection published in 1926.
The Beat poets of the mid-20th century also were influenced by the jazz musicians of their time. In fact, Jack Kerouac recorded an album entitled “Poetry for the Beat Generation”. Kerouac read his poetry and was accompanied by Steve Allen on piano. Allen was the first host of the Tonight Show.
Jazz poetry also had a strong presence in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960′s and ’70′s. This link includes audio of Gwendolyn Brooks reading and discussing her poem “We Real Cool”.
My interest in jazz poetry began when I attended a workshop facilitated by Glenn North, the poet in residence at the American Jazz Museum. I attended out of curiosity more than anything else, but I became a fan of both the music and the poetry.
Certainly, the fact that I live in Kansas City, which has a rich jazz history and is home to the museum, is a factor. I am only minutes away from the great programming at the museum and music in the Blue Room.
Although I did not consider myself a fan of jazz when I took the workshop, I had seen many of the jazz greats on television during my childhood. Most were near the end of their careers. My new-found interest in jazz has allowed me to meet these people when they were young and understand the role they played in the evolution of the music.
Jazz poetry has been a springboard to learning about other art forms that are influenced by the music. I have been introduced to painters, photographers and textile artists who have created work inspired by jazz. I have even written some poetry inspired by their work.
I’ll close with a quote from Langston Hughes:
Jazz is a heartbeat-it’s heartbeat is yours. You will tell me about its perspectives when you get ready.
Are you familiar with jazz music and/or jazz poetry? How have you seen jazz reflected in various art forms? Thanks Michelle!
Michelle Pond is a poet and photographer who likes sports, jazz and art inspired by other art. She also volunteers with a bereavement support group. Her poetry has appeared in Thorny Locust, rusty Truck ezine and Salon, an anthology from Kansas City’s longest running open mic. You can read her work at http://www.mapoetpoems.blogspot.com.