November 20, 2010

Jazz Poetry - “Eleven”

Eleven by Sterling D. Plumpp

There ain’t/No word
I ain’t/Heard.
ain’t/No word
Bird/Ain’t heard.

Language is an/Inventor’s

I/Blow psalms.
I/Blow sinner’s deeds.
I/Blow prayer before death.
I/Blow curses.
I/Blow laughter.
I/Blow vocabulary of my axe.

You can’t/Hold
folks/Down who Be-Bop
but you/Kin hold

Every Be-Bopper/Renew
to/Genius when he riff some
thing/New on his axe.

--From Velvet Bebop Kente Cloth (Third World Press, 2003)

Note: Sterling Plumpp was born in 1940 in Clinton, Mississippi. He grew up poor, working in cotton fields and corn fields by the age of eleven and prepared for the life of a field hand. But an aunt of his, who happened to be a bootlegger, had bigger plans and paid for him to attend school in Jackson. He earned a scholarship to a local college, but when the money ran out, he hitchhiked to Chicago and began writing poetry. He graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago, had his first poems published, and began teaching English at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC). His poetry often includes the rhythms of jazz (as does “Eleven”) and especially the blues. In a recent interview, Plumpp said that “bebop becomes the moment when people find their voices in some kind of collective process of innovation” - something that might apply equally to jazz (or poetry) as a whole. He has won numerous literary prizes for his twelve volumes of writing. Plumpp retired from UIC in 2001.

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