Saturday, June 28, 2014


D.C. Poetry Project member Avis D. Matthews brings us into the present with "Metaphorical," a poem inspired by Lori Williams.  Avis introduces Lori here as "a local jazz vocalist who's star has been steadily rising for several years. Every time I hear her live and on recordings I am impressed with the purity and authenticity with which she sings this genre."


The song is
a Pacific wave
when Lori sings it –
high and climbing,
screaming freedom.
catching light:
sparkling blue,
so blue.
to a
soul eclipse,
to a
cool-warm glide,
to a
daybreak stretch,
to a
healing within.

-- Avis D. Matthews

For more information, see Lori's bio here:  You can see how many different local and international musicians she has worked with.   One is pianist Allyn Johnson, director of UDC's Jazz Studies program and a frequent performer at the Strathmore Mansion and elsewhere--speaking of local musicians!

And here is Avis' biography.  As you can see, she has many, many talents.

Avis is a reader, poet, essayist, teacher, editor, and singer – in varying order, depending upon the season and the energy. She always is a daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and friend. She has been a high school social studies teacher for eight years and is pursuing an M.A. in American History at the University of Maryland College Park. Her professional work also has included public relations, marketing, journalism, and arts management. 
She would fight for: love, children, public libraries, truth, and justice. She wouldn’t want to live in a world without: good people, words, music, and funny stuff.

My husband and I enjoyed listening to these videos that Avis found for us:

(“What About April?”)

(“Afro Blue” medley)

(“How Can I Begin Again?”)

Below is a picture of Lori Williams as Ella Fitzgerald in the local musical Ladies Swing the Blues.  She is second from the left.

If you would like more information about the "contest" at this blog, here is the entry where I discuss it:

To see another approach, here is Ed Schelb's "Blue Logic":

Enjoy!  I hope that Avis (and Lori Williams--and Allyn Johnson) have inspired you to write. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blue Logic

To start off this project, I am posting Ed Schelb's "Blue Logic."  Ed is a friend of the family (me, my husband, and the cats) who first worked with my husband at Purdue in the 1990s.  Yes, yes, yes, Miles Davis is older than Ron Carter, but I think that it's more important to publish this poem and show what can be done with the music for inspiration.  Enjoy!  I hope that Ed's poem and the links below inspire you!


“Don't play what's there,play what's not there.”—Miles Davis

I listen to the spiny clusters
of sound trying
to break free as Miles
revolves around
a single note, exhausting
its capacity to move.
José calls discord color—
sulfurous yellow of exhaust,
blue of corpses!
Play that trumpet long enough
and the air sheds its color
and fades to a snakeskin pallor.
Blue trees, blue dirt,
branches tangled
and drenched in rapturous blue
to teach us the uselessness
of a winter sky.
An afternoon of fighting
over the car stereo
until I give in and play
sugarwater—Zucchero with his jazz
soft as a bruised pear—
after you swat Mingus
when the gospel
begins to buzz. Nightfall
and I still can’t remember
the names of the tunes
on Kind of Blue even after turning
on the dome light
and pouring over liner notes
as if consulting
a geological survey by flashlight.
A hearse passes by in the snow.
I go inside and read over
notes on gulls for an essay
I’ll never write—
kittiwake wings dipped
in Chinese ink, ideograms
of thievery, salt and pepper
shells for camouflage,
souls of drowned sailors.
I note the word gull comes
from seacoast-tongues,
goelaff, to weep,
with an entire lexicon
of emotion built
on bird-names, traces
of bird tracks or skeletal
nubs, bones warped to fit
a new territory.
Like a gull’s breast disappearing
into pale sky to compensate
for its inability to swim,
you may arrive at a blue logic,
blue copulas in the space
between colorless verbs.
Blue does not  waver.
Instead its identity congeals,
so that I can tolerate blue
only when softened
by white scumbled surfaces,
light filtered through worms’ nests
in mimosa trees,
virginal snow etched
with deer tracks.
Listen to Evans’ progressions
undulate like splintered ice
at the lake’s edge,
Coltrane’s gull-frenzy
as the sound searches
for scatterings of food.
At work I sneak looks
at Okada’s broken blue
circles where the action
takes place along the edges,
on the margins of color
where waterweeds
bloom. A space
of escaped birds—
a cormorant’s dive
leaving ripples,
a mallard’s descent
scarring the bright surface
with the silence
of his blue circles curling
tight as pine cones,
blues that contain traces
of goldenrod,
brush strokes left by bees,
a blue of shadows tilting
like an empty house.
I wait for surfaces
to freeze over so I can test
their thickness and listen
for cracks. I keep Okada’s fish-eye
perfections hidden deep.
Battery dead,
with just enough juice
to threaten to turn over.
Snowplows push the ice
like dung beetles.
Listen closely and you can
hear bicycles tremble
like dying bees.
I admire the plants
left out to freeze,
chrysanthemum skeletons
soft as paper. Chris refuses
to wear anything
but flamingo sneakers
whose soles leave the imprint
of a fish. Bright scales,
not the thick smoothness
of catfish or sleek
trout stipple-belly.
More like blue gill
or crappie multiplied
in snow banks, frozen scraps
of a love-feast.
I rub a few words in my hands
to gauge their degree
of ice and dust and drift.
I wander in and out
of books and daylight and songs
whose structure reminds me
of the curve of skeletons
and plants, of territorial gulls
burying the carcasses of rivals
into their own nests,
like inserting quotes from old
funeral marches
into a slowly decaying jazz tune.
The afternoon has turned
colder, with eyes
split open like figs,
with hands that imitate
dying trees,
with the daylight music
that swells like fish nets
dragged into harbors.
Maple leaves streaked
with gold tumble
like Duchamp’s nude
on her staircase,
more Byzantine
than flashbulb yellow
even in the dark,
hard-edged, all joints
and cysts and cylinders.
I once knew that angels
were birds, then anything
that took flight.
Seeds, spiders, pollen, gnats,
the dust that flew at harvest time.
Now birds spark
and driftwhirl coldly,
onslaughts of birdstrike
screech designed
for attack and flight
and deception
that you hear only
in the tidal cut,
lapwing cries to lure you
away from the truth.
Kandinsky saw blue
as a snail retreating
into its shell, drawing away
from the spectator,
turning in upon its own
center, withdrawing.
I stay closer to home:
blue-light specials.
Food stamps jamming
the registers.
All the aisle-lights
flashing like traffic signals
in a rain squall,
blip, blip, blip.
The cashiers handle
cereal boxes
like dead mice.

Outside the coffeehouse
piles of dirty snow bulge
like the muscles of Ruben’s horses.
Horses of suet
and snowdrift melted into
Baroque slagheaps.
I listen to the Birth of the Cool
as snowflakes fall
and Max  Roach’s drums
swarm and bite
and ignorant trombones
clash by night.
The chords become
muddy watering holes
where wild horses stop to drink.
Horses everywhere!
The ground looks trampled
as if by hooves.
The music lingers.
Bird’s moniker
was no coincidence.
Chickadee, Cherokee,
kiskadee, with the vowels
closing like a sudden
going away, infinite variations
upon a theme of evasion.
Marshtones, wheatstalk,
flycatchter tumble— 
shapes always deceive.
Even birds of prey know
their boundaries, the laws
of field-rustle and blue
that cannot be broken.
The cormorant fears
the gull’s eye,
and natural law reveals
itself through victims
—pigbones, mussel shells,
the skulls of wild swans—
while victims
speak of liberty
as the absence of all restraint,
as if a predatory gull
would see freedom as
stealing broken eggs
and strands of broken nests.

At dusk I listen
to the territorial disputes
of crows, their voices
distinct—the lesser
voice brittle as bamboo,
the other deep-throated
and rough—until lovers
in the park begin
to shout goodbye
and the firecrackers start.
I watch the starlings gather
in the mulberry branches
and try to coax them
into my guitar,
and your voice is still dark
when you call.
The moon still hides
behind the light it refuses,
and even the words
that betray sleep
are soft as dove-breast,
soft as the quiet delirium
of empty spaces.
The windows fog and the world
turns blue, the captive blue
of car radios late at night,
the blue of antelopes
who listen for the night-
rustle, inextricable
from the rich scent
of the dark. As we kiss
I dream  of drawing forth
a touch of that blue,
like lips grazing
a harmonica,
like orbits of planets
like lake water retreating
into itself like God’s
withdrawal at the creation
of the world,
a blue that exists
only in the feathers
of birds, imaginary birds
whose wings are estuaries,
whose eyes are full of rain
and thickening roots.
Nothing left to do
but search for my passport
and my dancing shoes.

And here are some links to Miles' music for you.  Some of the songs are from the albums that Ed mentions; others are from later ones, including some that my teacher Reuben Jackson introduced me to in a lecture he gave several years ago at the Writer's Center. (The entire Kind of Blue)   (A video of "So What" with period commentary) ("All Blues," a song that was later covered by Ron Carter and others)  (The entire Birth of the Cool) ("Concerto de Aranjuez (Adagio)" from Sketches of Spain) (The entire Filles de Kilimanjaro from 1968)  (The entire Jack Johnson from 1971)  (On The Corner from 1972)

The photograph above is of Miles Davis in 1955, relatively early on in his career.  Perhaps I should also include a link to his biography.

And, finally, here is a link to my call for poems!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lively Up the Blog

I thought I'd lively up the blog with a contest.

Earlier this summer, my husband and I were listening to the Ron Carter Trio at Bohemian Caverns, and I was wondering why it is hard to find poems about current jazz musicians.  It's easy to find poems about Charlie Parker, and even I have written poems that reference Monk.  But what about some of the musicians who are active now?!

So I came up with this contest.

It is open to any poet of any age, but the poem has to be inspired by a jazz musician Ron Carter's age or younger.  I know that Carter is not that young.  (For the record, he was born May 4, 1937.)  But since he inspired the contest, I thought I'd include him.

I would like to end the contest on August 19, that is, Bill Clinton's birthday and a day near the end of my summer break.  However, unlike many contests, I will be publishing the poems as I receive them.  Please send them to thesongis at gmail dot com .  Got it.  Emailing in the body of the email is better.

I would prefer poems under thirty lines, but longer is okay.

With your poem, send me a link to a YouTube video of the song and perhaps even a picture you'd like to post with it.  An image from Wikimedia Commons is probably best.

And here is some inspiration.

First, of course, some music by Ron Carter: ("Willow Weep For Me") ("Little Waltz" -- recorded in 1969) ("Autumn Leaves")

I also wanted to include McCoy Tyner:

But let's include some younger people, too.

I want to start with Robert Glasper!! ("Smells Like Teen Spirit") ("Afro Blue") (Here he plays more conventionally.)

Or you may prefer Allison Miller: ("Big and Lovely")

Danilo Perez is always fun to listen to.

This is his "Galactic Panama" :

Helen Sung performs with Ron Carter here:

Here she plays "Shall We Tango?"

I'll finish with Ambrose Akinmusire as I think I am including too many pianists.  ("The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint") ("Live at the Jazz Standard")

Post script....links to Gerald Clayton Trio *and* Jason Moran!!

Good luck!  Let me know if you have questions!!  (Please email them to thesongis address or post them below.)

Also, the poems you send may be unpublished or published--if you have rights to your poems.  This blog counts as a publication.