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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lester Young and Billie Holiday

Lester Young was born in Woodville, Mississippi on this date (August 27) in 1909. From his participation as a featured member of Count Basie’s band in the late 1930s through his performances as an accompanist for Billie Holiday, Lester Young developed a sound and a style that influenced generations of jazz saxophonists. For many, his personal attitude and relaxed playing personified cool jazz, a term he supposedly initiated.

In addition, his complementary contributions on a number of Billie Holiday’s finest recordings were impressive. Ted Gioia, in The History of Jazz, describes the pair: “there was a magical chemistry between these two elements, Holiday’s voice and Lester’s sax, leading some to characterize the collaboration between these two platonic friends as a ‘musical romance.’” Moreover, Lester Young gave Holiday the title “Lady Day,” just as she had nicknamed him “Prez,” the president of jazz musicians.

In the video above, Billie Holiday’s facial expressions while Lester Young plays his solo (the second, after Ben Webster) display a little bit of the musical intimacy in the relationship between the two. Other musicians in this stellar gathering recorded at CBS in 1957 include Danny Barker, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Hinton, O.C. Johnson, Gerry Mulligan, Mal Waldron, and Ben Webster.

In honor of Lester Young and Billie Holiday, I also offer the following poem, “Listening to Lester Young,” which first appeared in Crab Orchard Review and will be included in my forthcoming collection, Seeded Light, due out in January 2010 from Turning Point Books. I chose the title of the piece in homage to a poem with the same name by William Matthews, who identified with Lester Young, and as a nod toward his various poetic works about jazz figures.


. . . regrets are always late, too late!
—John Ashbery

Late at night, I’m listening to one of Lester Young’s
slower solos again, and although I know he’s playing

those same notes I’ve heard over and over, as the tone
of his tenor saxophone turns toward a lower register,

even that patter of cold drizzle now pasting shadowy
leaves against my window seems to follow his lead.

I wonder what you would be doing tonight and I want
to write a few lines in my notebook about how blue

and ivory skies gave way to rain today after you left,
or how coming home from the train station, I thought

I saw something, a large and ominous animal suddenly
outlined by lightning on that sparsely wooded hillside

beside the deserted highway we always drive to save
a little bit of time. As you travel farther away, hurry

through the muted darkness still surrounding everything,
so that you cannot even see the land tilting at the sea

or the gulls slanting overhead when you approach
the coastline, I imagine you beginning a new book

in the dim light of that passenger car, reading another
long novel about characters not so unlike ourselves,

each chapter titled and numbered as if to indicate life’s
merely a neat progression of unpredictable episodes.

By tomorrow evening you will be at that old hotel
where we once stayed for days in a room overlooking

plaza monuments deformed and whitened like marble
by a winter storm, while its foot of snowfall closed

the city down as though no one there had ever known
such weather in their lives. If you were still here,

you’d be able to hear Lester backing Billie Holiday
on another ballad recorded more than six decades

ago, but years before the two of them finally knew
the truth about that high cost of living they would

have to pay. I’m beginning to believe their duets of lost
love, the ways they phrase each line of lyric or melody,

create images in the mind as vivid as any photo
or poem we might have seen, evoke those places

Prez and Lady Day played in their earlier days—
Harlem cabarets and late-night cafés downtown,

or those small neighborhood halls with bare walls
and a gray haze of smoke above the stage, the ebony

and violet glow of an angled piano lid under indigo
lights, and a congregation of friendly faces gradually

fading into the black background with a persistent
chatter and clatter of glasses that lets everyone know

they are not alone. In the half hour before your
departure, when we sat silently on that station

platform bench, as though any attempt at conversation
would be hopeless and in fear someone around us

might overhear what we had to say, I tried somehow
to take into account how far apart we already were:

even then, I felt regrets are all we had left in common.

—Edward Byrne


Anonymous said...

Lester's licks in that video are some of the sweetest in jazz history. I've always thought it was a lesson in subtlety. It's easy to sense a softness that comes from within. Nothing against Ben Webster, but it's lovely to watch Young jump up before the end of his opening solo and take the phrasing in a cool, slowly, down-tempo style. I mean, for 34 seconds Young is touched by the gods. -- David Robbins

Keith Wilson said...

"even that patter of cold drizzle now pasting shadowy
leaves against my window seems to follow his lead."

Who hasn't felt that, when listening to music they love? So good.