This week the poet Martin Willits, Jr. portrays another side of Monk. A versatile poet, Martin takes on the voice of the great musician himself!
The Elephant on the Keyboards
(Critic Philip Larkin’s negative comment about Thelonious Monk)
No elephant can play the pauses, the off-beat,
know when silence is needed and when to fill
with as many notes as possible. No elephant
can do what I do, wearing beret and shades
because the lights of fame are blinding, man.
they’re used to working for peanuts anyhow.
But can an elephant get up from playing, dance,
go back to play without missing a step or note?
I think not. Can an elephant carry a tune
like it was heartbreak or sunbreak? Thought not.
Come to think of it, what’d you know about music?
I’ve been on the cover of Time; what’d you do?
You all think you pretty smart, been to school,
but I have been to hard times and no-times and
thrown-out-times and hard-swinging times.
When the mainstream critics, like you,
don’t get it, it’s because you ain’t got no ear
like an elephant. I take it as an accomplishment.
I must be doing something right
when you get it all wrong.
Martin Willitts Jr is a Quaker, organic gardener, visual artist of paper cutouts, and retired librarian. He won the International Dylan Thomas Poetry Award and read in Dylan's birthplace of Swansea, Wales. He has 6 full-length collections and 28 chapbooks. His most recent include “Before Anything, There Was Mystery” (Flutter Press, 2014)), “The Constellations of Memory and Forgiveness” (Seven Circles Press, web book, 2014), “A Is For Aorta” (Kind of Hurricane Press, e-book, 2014), national chapbook contest winner “William Blake, Not Blessed Angel But Restless Man” (Red Ochre Press, 2014), and "Swimming in the Ladle of Stars" (Kattywompus Press, 2014).
I was going to post some covers of Monk, but with Martin's poem, I cannot. So here are a few of Monk's songs from his album Underground:
We'll start with "Ugly Beauty": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zlf17XlSNU
"Boo Boo's Birthday" celebrates his daughter Barbara who would also become a musician herself:
Here is "Raise Four": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqCS7K0NR_Y
I hope these songs encourage you to write your own tribute to Monk, speaking in your own voice, his voice, or someone else's.