Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jivin' and A New Metered Riff by Mary Jo Balistreri

Painters and poets have developed a synergistic relationship over the years.  The classical author Ovid was known as "the painter's poet" for all of the art that his Metamorphoses had inspired over the years.  W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts" is probably among the most well-known of the poems written in response to these paintings.  In any case, the modern ekphrastic poem survives and thrives.  (As the author of's article on ekphrasis in poetry notes, " Ekphrastic poems are now understood to focus only on works of art—usually paintings, photographs, or statues. And modern ekphrastic poems have generally shrugged off antiquity’s obsession with elaborate description, and instead have tried to interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to their subjects."  Mary Jo Balistreri's "Jivin'" fits very well into this category; moreover, it interprets, inhabits, confronts, and speaks to Stuart Davis' painting that interprets, inhabits, confronts, and speaks to jazz of the 1940s and 1950s.  "Premier," the painting shown above is but one of his responses to jazz.  Interestingly, "Premier" is composed of words as well as line, color, and shape, and, as Mary Jo commented, writing her poem involved "just unscrambl[ing] the words and [making] them play as I would notes on a page of piano music."

     after Stuart Davis: Premier, 1957

The cool cat juiced
on rhythm
rides his horn’s wail
until sound bits blow
large as a wind-pumped
jumpin’ ‘round
corners, glidin’
‘long gutters, slicin’ hard-edged
color in billboard sass
rappin’ tappin’
in Manhattan, 
Harlem snappin’
moo cows happen
blow it man, snap to the beat
move those feet
dance any street
Meet it, man, treat it free
a music spree
come jive
                                            with me.

Below are other jazz paintings by Stuart Davis (1892-1964):

Mary Jo's next poem is more directly inspired by music, that is, by a local group of musicians she and her family "just happened to hear."  After that, she recalled that "this time the words came from the sound, pitch, register, melody. . .clarinet, sax, bass, piano."  This poem appeared in Kind of a Hurricane Press' recent anthology Tic-Toc under the title "Riffing on an Old Tune."

A New Metered Riff
Three adults and a newly minted teenager
   linger over lager
and lemonade  
    taco salads and quesadillas  
The moon hangs
 round and full
and we’re sure summer’s flavor is blueberry

Relaxed tonight, his words
 are open windows 
Paris light
champagne bubbly
whirling dervish of sound
bringing brio 
and abandon to the high
polished table
exploratory fire
free jazz

the old licks   quoted
in double-time

Here is a 1950 jam session with Coleman Hawkins, Ella Fitzgerald, Hank Jones, and Charlie Parker for Stuart Davis.

You may enjoy the link to "Parker's Mood" as well:

Some of you may be more familiar with King Pleasure's version with lyrics:

Or as "Moody's Mood for Love":

I will finish up with "Orinthology":

and with Mary Jo Balistreri's bio:

Mary Jo was a concert pianist and harpsichordist for most of her life, but with the death of her grandson in 2005, music, for the first time, did not help transcend grief. It could not give witness to the life of this child. With the help of other writers, Mary Jo began writing poetry and has never stopped. She now writes as much as she once practiced. She has two books of poetry, Joy in the Morning  and gathering the
harvest  published by Bellowing Ark Press and a chapbook, Best Brothers, published by *Tiger's
Eye Press.* She has three Pushcart nominations, and two Best of the Net. She is a founding member of Grace River Poets, an outreach for schools, women's shelters, and churches.



  1. Marianne,
    How joyful tonight with you labor of love. Thank you for posting this, for the wonderful links, for your enthusiasm in everything you do. You are an inspiration.

  2. Thank you so much, Mary Jo. :) I'm glad that you enjoyed how I presented your poems.

    Take care of yourself,


  3. Enjoyed your poems Mary Jo, especially A New Metered Riff.

  4. Thank you for stopping by, Sandy. I hope that all is well with you and yours. :) Enjoy your break!