August 1, 2010

Jazz Poetry - "Trane"

by Kamau Brathwaite

Propped against the crowded bar
he pours into the curved and silver horn
his old unhappy longing for a home

the dancers twist and turn
he leans and wishes he could burn
his memories to ashes like some old notorious emperor

of rome. but no stars blazed across the sky when he was born
no wise men found his hovel; this crowded bar
where dancers twist and turn,

holds all the fame and recognition he will ever earn
on earth or heaven. he leans against the bar
and pours his old unhappy longing in the saxophone

Note: Edward Kamau Brathwaite (born on Barbados in 1930) is a major voice in poetry and literature from the Caribbean. After his education at Cambridge in the early 1950s, he spent time in Ghana before returning to St. Lucia and then Barbados in the Caribbean. Brathwaite has published a number of books of poetry and prose, including Black + Blues (New Directions, 1976, 1995), from which this poem is taken. He is currently a professor of comparative literature at New York University.


  1. Fine poem but better suited to some unknown sax man. I question its implied claim to capture Trane. "No stars"? "All the fame and recognition"? Even given the questing spirituality of the great tenor, I would bet that he knew his mind, his skill, his dreams, his ego, his searching existence, et al, more than the poet allows, even at a young age playing r&b clubs.

  2. True. Very little of Coltrane's career happened in obscurity. And he certainly hasn't been lacking for fame and recognition...