Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tad Richards and Sheikha A.

Tonight Tad Richards combines two of my favorite things: jazz and weather imagery.  The poem below is from his collaboration with visual artist Nancy Ostrovsky.  It's also part of a series "about a young woman, the daughter of a modestly successful jazz musician, who has left her husband and is trying to figure out who she is, mostly using jazz as a conduit to her inner self." This time the jazz musicians whom Tad invokes in this poem are men born in the 1930s: Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly, and Lee Morgan. 


A front of warm air reached our region
around noon today. During
the afternoon, it will ooze on in,
probe with sticky, eighty degree fingers,
so that, she supposes, she could drive
in and out between yesterday’s clammy cold
and the oozing certainty of muggy heat,
like a county with local option on daylight saving,
or the sound from her rain-drenched speakers,
a few bars of Hank Mobley’s reassuring bebop,
then silence. She imagines the missing solo,
how Wynton Kelly might have picked it up,
brought it to where the sound kicks in again.
Lee Morgan is a harder read. Lost,
she moves inside to the weather channel.
The front is squatting now, threatening 
impossibly heavy storms—or did he say
possibly heavy storms? A guy calls,
she met him last week. He just wants 
to make sure she has candles on hand.
Hurricane lanterns are better. She asks him if
he could fill in the missing parts of a Hank Mobley solo.
Sure, he says. How about Lee Morgan?
Sure, he says. Him too.
No, you couldn’t, she says.

To read other poems in Tad's series, see these links:

I also want to add two poems that Sheikha A., a poet from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, has sent me.  Her first poem "Swaying Crows" reminds me of all the crows I see in my neighborhood these days: flying, perching in trees, even strutting down the street with the kids.

Swaying Crows

This afternoon, crows opened
their mouths to pigeons:
a debate on lost seasons.

It wasn’t long until a murder crowded
the neighbour’s sill drowning out
the sun from warming the water bowl.

In my city, leaves have yet to see
the gloriously transparent 
red visit for a coating.

The poor leaves know just one colour:
when smoke from roaring motors
plough their roots, these leaves know

just one way to bloom. Crows have
(always) the vision of a surly lover.
Voices that have been told

they’re too loud for an evening
with the stars. How leaves hatch
neglect intelligently

while crows sing
like refrain just grew a rose.

Sheikha A.'s poem about rain fits in well with Tad's.


The books are in their shelves.
My mind wired to the tunes

of reluctance refusing to leave
the clouds. The earth edging.

Winter’s feet have not learnt
to walk on sand. The bickering 

of rain heavy within the sky.
My pages are drier than fruits

hanging by their thin stems.
Some of us have freed.
Some of us in flight.

I grow obscurer in your gaze.
The rain loses core – 

falls like a sad song
on hollowing roofs.

Last week I played a few by Lee Morgan, so I will just play this one (relatively) early song "You Go To My Head":

Hank Mobley and Wynton Kelly play with Art Blakey and Paul Chambers on "Soul Station":

Here Mobley plays with Morgan (and a few others) on "All The Things You Are":

Kelly and Mobley perform "On a Clear Day" in Baltimore:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Welcome to Jackie Chou!

Photo by Metro96

It's been wonderful to see all of the new contributors to The Song Is... this fall/winter.  Tonight I am posting California poet Jackie Chou's piece about not driving.

Riding the Pumpkin Colored Carriage

The night approaches
As I stand by the bus bench
Gazing at every oncoming large vehicle
With hopeful eyes and extended neck
Thinking, is that the one, the 266?
Only to realize, when it gets closer
That it is another bus or a truck

I am used to this kind of night
The Los Angeles city bus
My prized mode of transportation
Takes me to pivotal occasions
Then disappears into its station
Leaving no trace of my whereabouts

After twenty minutes
The blinking lights of the 266
Finally appear from a visible distance
I wave at it with all smiles
Like a beauty queen in a parade
Forgetting the wait
The cold I have endured

I climb up its rubbery stairs
A willing bride ascending the altar
Tapping my pass and thanking the driver
It has been almost twenty years
Since the Driver Safety Department
Revoked my license
For an extensive psych history

I was not always this gracious
In my twenties I drove a pure white Ford Escort
Had a father who put a twenty dollar bill
On the ironing board every other day
For gas and maintenance

With the convenience of a car
I went to every party I knew about
In delicate dresses and three inch heels
Not the coarse clothes and sneakers
I now wear to walk between bus stops
But still, I yelled at my father
And threw furniture out the window

My father passed away in 2003
I never got my license back
I am still walking and taking the bus
Only to go where I have to go
Not where I feel like going
And becoming humbler

More appreciative everyday

Jackie Chou studied Creative Writing at USC.  She writes poetry in an attempt to construct meaning out of everyday experiences, to defy ordinary perceptions, and as an alternative to “ranting” to friends on Facebook.  She attends writing workshops and has been published locally. 

Last weekend my husband and I saw an excellent documentary on Lee Morgan: "I Called Him Morgan."  Although I've posted his music before, I am going to include a few more songs tonight.  Enjoy!  I'll try to look for something from his California albums although I have to post "Search for the New Land."

"Something Cute" was the next cut on Charisma:

I'll finish with "Absolutions," which is live from the Lighthouse in California:

Friday, February 3, 2017

Welcome to Daniel Snethen!

Finally this evening I am publishing the Great Plains poet (and biology teacher/researcher) Daniel G. Snethen's poems.  (He is primarily based in South Dakota these days.)  I have traveled through that region but never really stopped there, so it's interesting to read poetry that is informed by that part of the United States.  Certainly, as a poet, biology teacher, rancher, and researcher into the American Burying Beetle, Daniel has much insight into nature. 

an old yellar day
boar coon attacked my blue-tick
cross on Pepper’s grave


have four blind eyes,
poked out with a needle—
bound with Momma’s black sewing thread:

Christmas colored leaves
white poison ivy berries
fatal fall foilage

gentle April rains
robins feed on fresh mown lawns
earthworms in mourning

glowing northern nights
Aurora Borealis
Alaskan light-show

gyroscopic winds
cottonwoods bend, groan, and snap
Dakota cyclone

myriad snowflakes
kaleidoscopic crystals
promises of hope

ornate box turtles
kangaroo rats and yucca
Nebraska’s Sandhills

Let's add Freddie Hubbard's "First Light" into the mix:

"Red Clay" refers to another region's soil, but I think it fits well with both "First Light" and Daniel's pieces:

I want to continue with Milt Jackson's "Sunflower":

I'll finish with Ahmad Jamal's "Blue Moon" and "Invitation":

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Welcome to Buck Downs (and congratulations to our Pushcart Prize nominees)!

Tonight I'm very happy to post the work of someone who is not only new to The Song Is... but is also from the DC area (or the DMV, as we say now)...Buck Downs.  Moreover, he has entered his poem into the non-driving contest.

as one who went on foot
to the motorcycle rally

somewhere between falling apart
and being put together again

shadow formation

reparations for the last run
preparations for the next one

some people like to play with depression
others love being attacked

they were like weren’t you
wearing a helmet

I was like you understand
I broke my leg

they said didn’t you
use protection

I said you get that’s not my kid --

it ain’t no sense
talking about

my life --

I am tempted to include another image of a motorcycle rally.  It appears to be somewhere in the UK or Ireland.

Photograph by Mike Hope (Sunbeam Owners Fellowship)

Back at the end of November, during the most hectic part of a hectic fall semester, I submitted nominees for the Pushcart Prizes.  It's taken me this long to congratulate you, but tonight is a good night.

I am listing the nominees in chronological order:

Bill Cushing -- "'Music isn't about standing still and being safe'"

Bryn Fortey -- "No Valentines for the James Dean of Jazz"

Mike Bayles -- "A Day Cast in Gray/A Hard Day’s Night Playing in my Mind"

Yoby Henthorn -- "Cerebus"

Bola Ade -- "Hotep sh*t"

Claudine Nash -- "That True Voice"

I also want to include the honorable mentions as well: Tad Richards -- "In a Dream She Sees Lester Young Standing Naked" and "She Took Off Her Dress"; Michael Lee Johnson -- "Little Desert Flower" and "Alberta Bound"; and Amber Smithers' "Bulimia Poem."  

Thank you, everyone, for your contributions!  

Now for the music....

I have posted so many pieces by Miles Davis.  Tonight I'll post "Nefertiti":

Here is his "Filles de Kilimanjaro":

For Chet Baker, I'll include a 1959 recording of "My Funny Valentine":

This is his version of "Autumn Leaves":

I'll finish with some Lester Young.  First is his version of "Our Love is Here to Stay" with Teddy Wilson: 

Next is "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," a very appropriate title tonight!

Back to my papers!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Welcome to Philip Elliott!

Tonight I'm pleased to post two poems by Philip Elliott, the editor-in-chief of Into the Void and an intriguing writer in his own right.  I love how he interpreted the jazz contest, and as he noted, "I adore jazz, and see no real distinction between it and a good poem."

That Sax Solo Put A Spell On Me*

I put a spell on you, because you’re mine

You’re mine . . . .

Biiiiip                                                                                                                            bay
          be ba   bahhhh bahu                                                                          bah    baba
                                         wah     baba       baba        baba    bbrrriiiip  ba

Be      be                                                                                                    buh
     ba        ba    beyh~beyh~beyh~beyh~beyh~beyh~beyh~beyh~beyh    
                                                                                                                        hhhh bahe

                        bahhhh      babebeba
Buh ba        ba
                                                         booo . . . .

* from ‘I Put A Spell On You’ by Nina Simone

Are you ready for the future?

            Vulgar Machines

Year 401 of the Second Age
after the old ones somehow
made the world kill them:

A small village (in what was once
an old nursing home outside
what was once Gainsville, FL)

gather by the fire and chat.
‘We’ve all heard that the old
ones used to fly in the sky in

great big winged contraptions,’
the eldest man tells the group of
mostly young families, ‘but bet

you never heard bout their vulgar
machines. ‘Vulgar machines?’ a child
echoes, eyes wide and hungry with

imagination. ‘Oh yeah.’ The old man
grins, licks his lips, as excited as the
kid. ‘Every single one of the old ones

whizzed their selfs around in these big,
noisy, coughing, spluttering, vulgar
machines that could outrun the fastest

wild horse in the land. Could mow a
person down and not even be slowed.
Every one of the old ones had one and

used it to get everywhere. Could be
they even waged war gainst one nother
with em. They say that there used to be

hundreds of these machines lined up on the
Streets up until a couple hundred years ago
when people started melting them down.’

The gathering is silent, an image in every
brain. ‘I don’t know, dad,’ a man says
‘sounds a bit unlikely to me. The old ones

weren’t gods.’ ‘No,’ the old man agrees,
‘but they sure as hell thought they were.’

Philip Elliott is Irish, 23 years old and Editor-in-Chief of Into the Void Magazine. His writing can be found in various journals, most recently Otoliths, GFT Press, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine and Subprimal Poetry Art. He is currently working on his first novel, a novella and a chapbook of experimental poetry. Stalk him at

Before I post music, I'd like to mention that noted author and contest judge Catfish McDaris is gathering poems and fiction inspired by Vincent Van Gogh.  Are you interested?  He doesn't have a publisher yet, but he is quite excited by this project.  Please email me for more details.

Now here is the music.  Of course, we are starting with Nina Simone's "I Put a Spell on You":

I am also including her "I Wish I Knew How It Feels to Be Free":

Let's include some saxophones now as well.

John Coltrane joins the Sonny Rollins Quartet for "Tenor Madness":

Let's go back to Charlie Parker.  He and Sonny Rollins are part of the Miles Davis Sextet on "Compulsion":

Here Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon are playing together on "a rejected Stitt session" from 1962:

I'll finish with a contemporary saxophonist, Grace Kelly on "Blues for Harry Bosch":

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Welcome to Jennifer Elizabeth Hall!

Tonight I'd like to post two poems and a drawing by my former student Jennifer Elizabeth Hall.  Her first poem brings spring nearer to us.

Cradle of Life
In the garden at the greenhouse, by a waterfall
that dives into a pond of stones, splashes in
tiny ripples near reeds, and old fallen leaves,
under a red maple, as frogs call back and forth—
I hear baby birds chirp, above a vine-draped arbor,
from a tall tree with blossoms from tiny white buds,
that reaches to the height of the Conservatory
under solid blue day and a warm orange sun.

Up high on the side of the round white flowers,
I find the cradled bird’s nest. Within the dense tree,
a mockingbird mother with gray tipped black wings
jumps to safety in the middle of the tree, to observe me
with curious gold eyes, glowers and sings, a warn full
reproach, and I notice the thorns, two inches and sharp,
that surround the tree. Only a small downy white
feather, caught on the end of a thorn still wavers
with the breeze, evidence of the price to breach the tree.

Careful not to prick myself on the thorns’ tips,
I feel the soft, silk spring petals, with pink tipped
filaments, sprouts from the pale green stems of this tree,
called a Hawthorn. Cradled deep, small and round,
dark fruit begins to grow. The nest of brown twigs sleeps,
quiet, embraced by the knowledge mother bird is there,
though she has not yet returned to her babies. Above
she waits, her fluffy beige underbelly and gray fan tail
patient, lest she give away their location. Soon it is time
to go, to let the mockingbird alone in its home.

As I walk away from the full tall Hawthorn, now
it appears to resemble a small hedge or bush of green
leaves, more innocuous, less formidable. I can imagine—
once this was the Tree of Eden, in the Garden, in a place
Adam and Eve took the knowledge of good and evil.
Above the shade of the thorns, the sun shines bright over

the greenhouse, just a harmless green tree beside.

A Cat with Tattoos

A cat, casually smokes a cigar,
wears calligraphy swirls in S like curls, an artful grin,
big as a house, he ignores the little drawn man, in huge
black boots with head a-spin, like a vortex to pull him in,
who waves a finger at him when he sits down on a car
he crushes, then raises a brow at, oh well, destruction
drifts off to daydreams of sand wasteland, monochromatic
thoughts of crosses and graves like stakes and the sun
drips of blood in the sky, watches like the eye of God,
and smoke flows up to the stars.

Continuing the theme of animals, Jennifer also sent me this picture of "Charlie."

Jennifer Elizabeth Hall is a poet and artist residing in Montgomery Village, Maryland. She has a passion for art, music and literature, as well as genetics and neuroscience. She has just completed a trilogy, and awaits its publication. Her poetry has appeared in Dragonfly Arts Magazine.

Although the picture on the cover is very wintry, let's start with pianist Duke Jordan's "Flight to Denmark," the country where he lived at the time:

Another of his songs is "Flight to Japan":

The other day I was listening to some Freddie Hubbard videos, so here is his "Birdlike":

A contemporary group, the Kamasi Washington Group, performs a version of Hubbard's "Hub Caps":

I'll finish with Washington's version of "Cherokee" from his recent album Epic:

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Welcome to P C K Prem!


….a long poem in ten parts by p c k prem, India

                                          OF THIS TIME
                                  (A poetic documentary on a Modern Man)
Word is a sacred asset
on the crowded mall,
near the church ancient
of peanuts and grams roasted,
in warm winters,
as monkey on feet
extend frowning hands at visitors
colliding with lusty glances
in passions cold,
when the white man refused
to see a soul,
in bodies brown.

It was a non-existing wedge
between cultures,
of people denying man to live
in prayers with no wish,
to think of statues erected
on crowded crossings.

            ii. Of this moment

A hymn a crowd sings turns into posers,
many scorpions
and temples surge with natives
thumping noisy whispers,
and it is a patchwork
of moaning prayers and grimaces,
ironic oblique looks
while disciples of monkeys’ God
prowl around munching grams,
to enact a historic scene
in a theatre of absurd gaieties.

            iii. Of this obscurity

Meanings transmitted make out
lethal phantoms,
for a few moments more men, women
and children close eyes
and construct scenes,
of joyous gnomes
as if landing from the blue
on the spacious lawn;
before many vermilion painted
tall stony figures,
and form grisly rainbows
with multi-layered torsos,
spitting fire.

            iv. Of this prayer

Aromatic and lightly sour bouquet,
spatter around as if
a whole beauty of earthly breast
and the world
not imagined,
opens before the eyes
and the praying forms
oblige smiles on the lips
that listen to mantras and chanting.

Tingling of bells incessantly charms
blissfully it drives silly pack
to a smoggy coma.
There the beauty of a woman
unlocks ecstasy,
to find a vacant grave
when a firm string prolongs
to exhaust fortitude
of a hungry pit.

            v. Of this priest

In saffron with patches snaky
observes beauties of curves
and mumbles amorous words none hears
in solemn shades of temples.
This pundit nurses many love scenes
with the damsels,
and next moment
he looks at the huge statue of God
and sighs, groans and yet sings
rhymes of glory
with watery mouth.

            vi. Of this secret

A mast of hymns bursts out
the great laughter of liking for body
as Gods look on a new prayer
composed for another,
shadowy daytime to dole out
gods bequest
after people pour whispers
at bathed feet,
the wily priest with dozens of religions
and sermons,
in extracts showers soft touches
on fair ladies
with detached looks at others.

            vii. Of this pillar

A legend of a blind king
crushing a iron sculpture is born
to warn an arc idol,
the golden awning, the granite floor
and the chandeliers with huge
brass bells,
where the naked feet
the covered head and the burning flames,
remind mortals
of a bloodstained field
that appear red.

This is all I view around
and forget the ancient man
on the death bed.

As I am engaged with a pundit
to strike a bargain,
philosophy assaults the head
with blows and it bleeds,
and I run away as wicked feelings fill
an empty brain.

            viii. Of this vision

Closed eyes put up images
of bloated bellies,
half smiling lips and truths in plenty
to create illusions.

And an idea emerges
to fill up a space in time.
Guilt speaks out without prompting
and I feel crushed.

Fierce little words invade
and I analyze vainly.

And a cauldron burns energies
of stirrings of gods,
while searing heat burns and re-burns
as the body refuses to agree
where tragedy occurs.

And still I derive pleasure
from the closed eyes.

            ix. Of this feeling

Of hindsight, a man is just confused
hungry and thirsty.

Suffocates and yet feels relaxed
at another time.

Lips murmur a secret prayer
as eyes observe,
and eat up beauty around.

Awful experience wanders inside
with witches gory.

I wonder what I do
in the abode of God
crying for identity.

Muttering hymns in delight
of fervent fable
I cry why I close eyes.

            x. Of this stage

Of ancient sin I try to materialize
a logogriph to baffle
as I revisit Mahabharata
and get relieved
when I see Bhishma
that sin is not new
and penance is primordial.

I am probably a newly born saint
of an old age in times new.
It is a classic tale of lie
and pretence in a warrior in fears
surviving in an era of deception.

Of temples filled with crowds
sponsored by the state mostly
to capture booths and ballots
in an age of dons in religions
and cons in politics.
And I watch
the priest standing alone 
singing love songs of yore.

I laugh with the song
and walk out in disgust
to weave another story
of sins in shrines of Gods.


 P C K Prem (p c katoch of garh-malkher, palampur, himachal, a former                  academician, civil servant and member psc hp, shimla) is an author of more than fifty books. A post-graduate in English literature from Punjab University, Chandigarh, he has brought out nine volumes of poetry besides five books on criticism, two books on ancient literature, six novels and two collections of short fiction.  Creative writings in Hindi include twenty novels, nine books on short fiction and a collection of poems. Recipient of several awards, Katoch Prem is a poet, novelist, short story writer and a critic in English and Hindi from Himachal, India.

Tonight I will start the music with Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "The Inflated Tear."  As you'll see on the video, he is playing several instruments at once:

His "Volunteered Slavery" is from 1972:

This is his "Serenade to a Cuckoo":

Here he plays with McCoy Tyner and Stanley Clarke: