A new poem draft: The Atheist Confronts A LOVE SUPREME

The Atheist Confronts A Love Supreme

It’s just vibrations:







Set in motion by






In turn, set in motion by

Minds that are not free,

That are run on chemicals

and electricity—

And there is no heart;

The heart is an organ—

And it’s all molecules anyhow.

It may seem spirit-sound

In its volume




In its prayer-coherence


God’s not in it.

No god hears it.

That’s what he thinks.

But in a half-century of

Proselytizing on its merits,

It is not what he says.

This is not subterfuge.

It is stubborn impulse,

Some synapse snap,

That makes him whisper,

“It is spiritual.”

Paul Blackburn, “Listening to Sonny Rollins at The Five Spot”: When Jazz Poetry Works

No one should be surprised to learn that an attempt to parallel the rhythms, inventions, and effects of jazz has fueled a raft of poetry over the years. Just as great jazz is difficult, so is great jazz poetry. Here’s a stellar one that, to my eye and ear, is a spectacular success. It’s called “Listening to Sonny Rollins at The Five Spot,” and it’s written by Paul Blackburn:

THERE WILL be many other nights like
be standing here with someone, some
there will be other songs
a-nother fall, another ­ spring, but
there will never be a-noth, noth

         Other lips that I may kiss, 
but they won’t thrill me like 
            thrill me like 
                          like yours 
used to 
     dream a million dreams 
but how can they come 
when there

           never be 
a-noth ­ 

Just for fun, play this clip of Rollins playing–what else?–“There Will Never Be Another You.” The venue isn’t The Five Spot, and Rollins is incapable, I think, of duplicating an improvisation,  but I think it might go a long way towards proving Blackburn’s triumph in the above poem.

Note: The song “There Will Never Be Another You” was written in 1942 by Harry Warren (music) and Mack Gordon (lyrics) for the Sonja Henie musical Iceland. I believe I am right in saying that jazz musicians have put the song to more lasting use (try Chet Baker’s, too).

The Wrong Notes (A poem Thelonious Monk caused)

My truck cab is compact

But built for euphony.

I squeeze in for a ride,

Disc in hand

To fit my feeling,

Slide it in the player:

No place for sound to go

But to besiege me beautifully.

I don’t even know I am driving


A splendid day.

Sun’s rays,

Monk’s notes,

And a healthy engine

Turn me

Half my age as I

Cruise the main drag.

No beer between my legs

But my fellows are using their

Turn signals

And eschewing phones

Out there.

Hardly does this bliss

Settle when a crabbed image

From our sick spirit

Troubles my sight:

Four rumpled men

With signs and staves

Shouting at girl

Ducking in a clinic door.

I want to blast my horn as I pass.

Backs to the road,

They stand a yard from the curb.

Heart attack, perhaps?

They could be ministering

To the poor

Instead of fouling this child’s day

And mine.

As I ball my fist

Another sound intrudes.

The cab is tight.

It’s Monk,

Hammering out

A dissonant smear

(Like that picket gang)

To break the ear’s ease

In half.

Like the porter’s knock,

To break the spell,

But of pleasure,

Not horror.

Either spell is

Chicanery in our

Quest for truth.

Monk, those notes

Were right.

I drove past


As one you suspended.


“Texas Playboy”: The Only Poem I’ve Written in the Last 15 Years

…and it’s no surprise it’s about Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. This comes from maybe 6-7 years ago. I was teaching seniors at Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri, and trying to persuade them to shoot high in preparing for our class poetry slam. Nothing was seeming to work (strategies, videos, models, exercises, live readings), and, mildly crestfallen at my failure, I was surfing YouTube when I came to this video:

As usual, contact with Wills’ music banished the blues, then it occurred to me, “Hey, I’ll write my own poem for the slam, and surreptitiously introduce them to one of my all-time idols. If you know anything about The Youth of the ‘Oughts, you know any hope of them welcoming music like Western Swing with open arms was going to be dashed on the rocks. Still, I plunged blindly ahead. Here are the results, and after almost a decade, I guess I like them, because I am posting it:

“Texas Playboy”

After class one day,

Kid asks me about Howlin’ Wolf.

I submerge into pure joy for ten minutes

Channeling some Delta griot’s ghost that

Mastered me when I was the kid’s age.

When I surface, flushed but conscious,

The kid gapes at me with worried eyes.

Stutters, “So who’s your favorite?”

Speechless, I lie.

“That’s a parlor game, kid, shows

Free enterprise won’t even let you

Think about art without having to

Declare a winner. Good Lord.”

Kid shrugs, looks at his shoes.

“What a dick,” he thinks.


Fact is, I know all about such games.

Play them myself all the time.

Playing one now.

Have a favorite.

Looking at him now

On You Tube,

This portal for dead musicians

And hoarded cathode memories.

He is fat,

His belt sitting atop his navel

like a rough uncle.

Blatant toup wraps a head

Split by cophragous grin.

Squat, he struts the stage

Like a doctored chicken

In white cowboy boots.


His axe?

A fiddle.

He is everything I know

Of cool.


This explains the lie, kid.


Old black and white short

From the Forties.

Crowded by a sextet,

Crouching as if to make,

He points fiddle bow at pianist,

And looses two euphoric syllables:


Bouncing saloon tinkles

Trigger steel

Trigger guit

Trigger trumpet

Trigger drums

Trigger fiddles.

Swing emerges,

Magic, ecumenical,

Impossibly joyous.


Wine tasters raise my hackles.

But permit me this:

If you could drink this sound

You would taste




Our own maligned Texas.


Two choruses in,

He whirls and stabs bow

at the other fiddler.

“Ahhhhhhhhh, Joe D.”

By tune’s end,

All have shone.



Couples shelve grievances,

Embrance and spin,

Imagine, believe in,



He takes it home,

Raises fiddle to chin,

Graces band with a

Smiling, peripheral gaze.


So, kid—Bob Wills.

In my fantasy, I both

Point the bow

And wait my turn.

It flowed out if me in about 15 minutes, then I took about an hour to hammer at it. I read it to the kids the next day–of course, I showed the above video, and had to do a verbal version of footnotes, but they did not throw anything at me. And…every student wrote a poem and participated. The class elected its own judges, and I held myself out from the competition, obviously, but guess what won?

A poem that read like the lyrics to an Usher song, but, as its punchline revealed, was about washing and waxing…a car.

You can’t win ’em all. Or maybe you can.