Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Elephant on the Keyboards

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.
O, they can trumpet; I’d put them in the horns,
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":

"Boo Boo's Birthday" celebrates his daughter Barbara who would also become a musician herself:


I hope these songs encourage you to write your own tribute to Monk, speaking in your own voice, his voice, or someone else's.


  1. I really enjoyed this poem and must read more of his work. What book would you suggest I begin with?

    He was on Poppy Road Review the other day. He haunts me.

    In music we always said those who can play the piano,play. Those who can't become musicologists--or in this case critics.

    Thanks for posting this Marianne.

  2. My pleasure, Mary Jo. I am intrigued by his two recent e-books, but I'd like to pick up Before Anything, There Was Mystery. I first noticed Martin's Celtic astrology poems, but I, too, have enjoyed his work at Poppy Road and Flutter. I'm glad that he decided to send this poem to me!

  3. Thanks for letting me know about Martin's poem here Marianne. He has this uncanny ability to "become" the person in the poem he's writing about. He did the same with his collection of Emily Dickinson poems. I enjoyed reading this poem even though I'm not familiar with Monk. I'm not familiar with jazz music period, I'm more of an 80s new wave fan. :-)

  4. Yes, that is the test of a great poem, Sandy, that it intrigues you even though you're not that familiar with the subject matter. I will look for his Emily Dickinson poems. By the way, which 80s new wave do you like best? That is my husband's era. When I was listening to the oldies station in high school, he was listening to Elvis Costello and The Roches at Earlham in Indiana.

  5. You can find his Emily Dickinson chapbook at Aldrich Press, I can't recall the name of the chapbook though. I'm not sure all of these bands represented New Wave but I thought of them that way: Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, New Order, The Thompson Twins, The Human League, etc. I was really into the British bands and their unique styles.

  6. This is a whole new world. Perhaps I will have an 80s contest. I am thinking about doing a 90s contest at some point, too. My "new" music tends to be from that era.