Art Works Blog

From the Archives: When Jazz Inspires Poetry

Earlier this month, to celebrate the confluence of National Poetry Month and Jazz Appreciation Month, we looked at works of jazz influenced by poetry. Today we're flipping the script and looking at poetry influenced by jazz. Click on the hyperlink to read each poem in full.

This is just a very small sample of the jazz poetry out there, and we hope you'll let us know about your favorite jazz-influenced poems in the comments. 

"...and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing..."

              from "The Day Lady Died" by Frank O'Hara

"I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked..."

              from "Mingus at the Showplace" by William Matthews

"Dreaming on a train from New York
to Philly, you hand out six
notes which become an anthem..."

              from "Here Where Coltrane Is" by Michael S. Harper

"I criscrossed with Monk
Wailed with Bud
Counted every star with Stitt
Sang "Don't Blame Me" with Sarah..."

              from "Jazz Fan Looks Back" by Jayne Cortez

"Sweet beats of jazz impaled on slivers or wind
Kansas Black Morning/First Horn Eyes/
Historical sound pictures on New Bird wings"

               from "Walking Parker Home" by Bob Kaufman

"The alto's
liquid geometry weaves a way of thinking,
     a way of breaking
synchronistic..."

              from "Ornithology" by Lynda Hull

"Jazz was already playing in Beale Street when Madeleine Reierbackher arrived there.
Madeleine Reierpicker up the yellow horn and began to play.
No one had ever heard anything comparable to the playing of Madeleiene Reierbacher.
What a jazz musician! The pianist missed his beats because he was so excited."

              from "The History of Jazz" by Kenneth Koch

"Billie Holiday's burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,.."

              from "Canary" by Rita Dove

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the Art Works blog on April 14, 2015. We're republishing today in honor of National Poetry Month and in celebration of tonight's 2016 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert. Watch live at 8:00 pm ET on arts.gov!

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