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

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sonny Rollins and Philip Levine

Saxophonist Sonny Rollins was born on this date (September 7) in 1930. for more than half a century, since his days in the beginning of the 1950s with the Modern Jazz Quartet and his recordings with Miles Davis or Thelonius Monk, Rollins has been an influential individual in American jazz. In addition, his life story has taken on the aura of legend. From his early years involved in crime and drug abuse, through a couple of periods of self-imposed exile from public performance, and on to his stature as a mature and sophisticated representative of jazz mastery, Sonny Rollins frequently has presented himself as a mysterious and enigmatic figure.

One of the puzzling periods in his life occurred at the close of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, when he stepped away from the spotlight of public performance for a few years, hoping to rejuvenate and expand the scope of his playing. According to the well-known narrative, Rollins practiced regularly at night in isolation under the structure of the Williamsburg Bridge. As he has stated: “I was getting very famous at the time and I felt I needed to brush up on various aspects of my craft. I felt I was getting too much, too soon, so I said, wait a minute, I'm going to do it my way. I wasn't going to let people push me out there so I could fall down. I wanted to get myself together, on my own. I used to practice on the bridge, the Williamsburg Bridge, because I was living on the Lower East Side at the time.”

Philip Levine has written of this experience in his poem, “The Unknowable,” which appeared in Levine’s 1999 collection, The Mercy. Levine often has focused upon figures from jazz music for whom he has expressed admiration and with whom he has identified to some degree. As I suggested during the following excerpt from a previous post on “One Poet’s Notes” reviewing Philip Levine’s recent volume of poetry, Breath, the connections detected between Levine and his jazz heroes can be quite revealing:

When I reviewed Philip Levine’s The Mercy in the first issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review back in the fall of 1999, I concluded my comments with a quote from one of the poems, “The Unknowable,” a tribute to jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins. I suggested some of the lines, including the closing ones, could prove just as fitting for a description of Levine: “a man who stared for years / into the breathy, unknowable voice / of silence and captured the music.” Therefore, when I noticed the title of Levine’s next collection and read the book’s epigraph (“Some days I catch a rhythm, almost a song / in my own breath”) drawn from the first lines of its final poem, “Call It Music,” a similar tribute to Charlie “Bird” Parker, I smiled.

My smile showed not only from a recognition of the repetition in images that bridges the two volumes, but also from a sense of fulfillment, a feeling that Levine, too, was acknowledging some greater degree of identification with the musicians he admires so much, those figures of jazz such as Bird, with his “breath of genius / which now I hear soaring above my own.” Like those bebop musicians—including Bud Powell or Thelonious Monk—Levine lauds in his deceptively plain-spoken yet lyrical lines, the poet has developed a distinctive sound over the past few decades that preserves well the mood and atmosphere of particular times or places now lost. As well, the poet’s characters, many long dead, appear as presences kept alive a little bit longer by lingering elegiac lyrics, each phrase sounding like a breath of expression blown into a wind instrument or notes from some old piano riff held forever on tape from a recording session more than half a century ago.

In his endnotes to The Mercy, Philip Levine comments: “’The Unknowable’ owes everything to the life of Sonny Rollins.” On this day, Levine’s poem seems particularly appropriate to share with readers.


Practicing his horn on the Williamsburg Bridge
hour after hour, “woodshedding” the musicians
called it, but his woodshed was the world.

The enormous tone he borrowed from Hawkins
that could fill a club to overflowing
blown into tatters by the sea winds

teaching him humility, which he carries
with him at all times, not as an amulet
against the powers of animals and men

that mean harm or the lure of the marketplace.
No, a quality of the gaze downward
on the streets of Brooklyn or Manhattan.

Hold his hand and you’ll see it, hold his eyes
in yours and you’ll hear the wind singing
through the cables of the bridge that was home,

singing through his breath—no rarer than yours,
though his became the music of the world
thirty years ago. Today I ask myself

how he knew the time had come to inhabit
the voice of the air and how later
he decided the time had come for silence,

for the world to speak any way it could?
He wouldn't answer because he’d find
the question pompous. He plays for money.

The years pass, and like the rest of us
he ages, his hair and beard whiten, the great
shoulders narrow. He is merely a man—

after all—a man who stared for years
into the breathy, unknowable voice
of silence and captured the music.

—Philip Levine

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