Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Monday, September 22, 2008

John Coltrane, Michael S. Harper, and Amiri Baraka: Jazz Music and Poetry

In Jazz Is, his collection of reflections on jazz musicians, Nat Hentoff describes John Coltrane: “Coltrane, a man of almost unbelievable gentleness made human to us lesser mortals by his very occasional rages. Coltrane, an authentically spiritual man, but not innocent of carnal imperatives. Or perhaps more accurately, a man, in his last years, especially but not exclusively consumed by affairs of the spirit. That is, having constructed a personal world view (or view of the cosmos) on a residue of Christianity and an infusion of Eastern meditative practices and concerns, Coltrane became a theosophist of jazz. The music was a way of self-purgation so that he could learn more about himself to the end of making himself and his music part of the unity of all being. He truly believed this, and in this respect, as well as musically, he has been a powerful influence on many musicians since.”

As we approach John Coltrane’s birthday tomorrow (born September 23, 1926), this occasion offers another opportunity to recognize the close associations between jazz and poetry during the last half-century. Perhaps no example displays the merging of these two art forms better than Michael S, Harper’s “Dear John, Dear Coltrane,” the title poem from his 1970 collection that responds to Coltrane’s music, particularly his magnificent 1965 recording, A Love Supreme. (A rare film clip of Coltrane performing an excerpt of “A Love Supreme” appears above.) Harper explains his poem actually was written just before Coltrane’s death in 1967, yet the poem’s later publication and its content certainly lend a sense of elegy to the work.


a love supreme, a love supreme
a love supreme, a love supreme

Sex fingers toes
in the marketplace
near your father's church
in Hamlet, North Carolina—
witness to this love
in this calm fallow
of these minds,
there is no substitute for pain:
genitals gone or going,
seed burned out,
you tuck the roots in the earth,
turn back, and move
by river through the swamps,
singing: a love supreme, a love supreme;
what does it all mean?
Loss, so great each black
woman expects your failure
in mute change, the seed gone.
You plod up into the electric city—
your song now crystal and
the blues. You pick up the horn
with some will and blow
into the freezing night:
a love supreme, a love supreme—

Dawn comes and you cook
up the thick sin 'tween
impotence and death, fuel
the tenor sax cannibal
heart, genitals, and sweat
that makes you clean—
a love supreme, a love supreme—

Why you so black?
cause I am
why you so funky?
cause I am
why you so black?
cause I am
why you so sweet?
cause I am
why you so black?
cause I am
a love supreme, a love supreme:

So sick
you couldn't play Naima,
so flat we ached
for song you'd concealed
with your own blood,
your diseased liver gave
out its purity,
the inflated heart
pumps out, the tenor kiss,
tenor love:
a love supreme, a love supreme—
a love supreme, a love supreme—

—Michael S. Harper

Some of Harper’s own comments on John Coltrane, jazz, spirituality, and this poem inspired by Coltrane’s music or biographical details are engaging and enlightening:

Black musicians have always melded the private and the historical into the aesthetics of human speech and music, the blues and jazz. The blues and jazz are the finest extensions of a bedrock of the testamental process. Blacks have been witnesses victims; they have paid their dues. “Dear John, Dear Coltrane” was written before John Coltrane died; its aim is the redemptive nature of black experience in terms of the private life of a black musician. Coltrane’s music should be seen as a progression from the personal to incantation and prophesy. It is a fusing of tenderness, pain, and power in their melding, and the [furbishing] is at once an internal and external journey or passage: to live with integrity means “to live”—“to create”; its anthem—“there is no substitute for pain”—The poem is a declaration of tenderness, and a reminder to the reader of a suffering beyond the personal and historical to the cultural, that there can be no reservations fixed to sensibility, that personality gives power through the synthesis of personal history and the overtones of America in and by contact. The poem begins with a catalog of sexual trophies, for whites, a lesson to blacks not to assert their manhood, and that black men are suspect because they are potent. The mingling of trophy and Christian vision, Coltrane’s minister-father, indicates an emphasis on physical facts—that there is no refinement beyond the body. The antiphonal, call-response/retort stanza simulates the black church, and gives the answer of renewal to any question raised—“cause I am.” It is Coltrane himself who chants, in life, “a love supreme”; jazz and the blues, as open-ended forms, cannot be programmatic or abstract, but modal . . .. Coltrane’s music is the recognition and embodiment of life-force; his music is testament in modal forms of expression that unfold in their many modal aspects. His music testifies to life; one is witness to the spirit and power of life; and one is rejuvenated and renewed in a living experience, the music that provides images strong enough to give back that power that renews. . ..

Len Lyons, in The 101 Best Jazz Albums: A History of Jazz on Records, has written about Coltrane’s music: “A Love Supreme, recorded in December, is a remarkably warm, hopeful, and energetic outpouring. Coltrane was explicit about the religious inspiration of the music in his poem which serves as the album’s liner notes. John once told his mother that he had experienced visions of God while preparing the music, which was ominous to her because she felt that ‘when someone is seeing God, that means he is going to die.’”

Although obviously not demonstrating the quality of Harper’s poetry, John Coltrane explicitly indicated his own understanding of the interaction between poetry and music with the inclusion of his poem as guidance to listeners in the liner notes for A Love Supreme:


I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee O Lord.
It all has to do with it.
Thank you God.
There is none other.
God is. It is so beautiful. Thank you God. God is all.
Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses.
Thank you God.
In You all things are possible.
We know. God made us so.
Keep your eye on God.
God is. he always was. he always will be.
No Matter what . . . it is God.
He is gracious and merciful.
It is most important that I know Thee.
Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts,
fears and emotions—time—all related . . .
all made from one . . . all made in one.
Blessed be His name.
Thought waves—heat waves—all vibrations—
all paths lead to God. Thank you God.

His way . . . it is so lovely . . . it is gracious.
it is merciful — Thank you God.
One thought can produce millions of vibrations
and they all go back to God . . . everything does.
Thank you God.
Have no fear . . . believe . . . Thank you God.
The universe has many wonders. God is all.
His way . . . it is so wonderful.
Thoughts—deeds—vibrations, etc.
They all go back to God and He cleanses all.
He is gracious and merciful . . .
Thank you God.
Glory to God . . . God is so alive.
God is.
God loves.
May I be acceptable in thy sight.
We are all one in His grace.
The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement
of Thee O Lord.
Thank you God.
God will wash away all our tears . . .
He always has . . .
He always will.
Seek Him everyday. In all ways seek God everyday.
Let us sing all songs to God
To whom all praise is due . . . praise God.
No road is an easy one, but they all go back to God.
With all we share God.
It is all with god.
It is all with Thee.
Obey the Lord
Blessed is He.
We are all from one thing . . . the will of God . . .
thank you God
I have seen God—I have seen ungodly—
none can be greater—none can compare to God.
Thank you God.
He will remake us . . . He always has and he
always will.
It is true—blessed be His name—thank you God.
God breathes through us so completely . . .
so gently we hardly feel it . . . yet,
it is everything.
Thank you God.
All from God.
Thank you God. Amen.
In the liner notes to the Coltrane retrospective album released by Rhino Records in 1993, The Last Giant: The John Coltrane Anthology, poet Amiri Baraka reported on the inspiration for his poem dedicated to Coltrane and imitative of Coltrane’s music: “The poem ‘I Love Music’ was written to recall when I was locked up in solitary confinement after the Newark rebellions in 1967. I sat one afternoon and whistled all the Trane I remembered. And then later that afternoon they told me he had died. But I knew even then that that was impossible.” (A recording of Amiri Baraka performing “I Love Music” is available as an mp3 at the University of Pennsylvania archives.) As Baraka suggested then, and now as we remember this significant musician on his birthday, John Coltrane’s spirit remains alive in his recordings, as well as in the music and the poetry later composed by the many he influenced or inspired.

1 comment:

William Gabriel said...

I have given you an award.

See "And the winners are ... " post for details.