Poetry and Music: Jazz, Poetry and the Troubadour Tradition Notes from Larry Sawyer for November 17 Columbia Talk

Panel discussion
Tuesday, November 17, 2009 5:00pm – 5:30pm
ROCKPILE at Columbia College Chicago, 11/17/09, 5 pm, Ferguson Hall

Participants: David Meltzer, Michael Rothenberg, Terri Carrion, Art Lange, Ed Roberson, Tony Trigilio, with Dan Godston, Dan McNaughton, Bob Malone

Moderator: Larry Sawyer

A Latin root is turbare, to upset or (over)turn. Trobar is cognative with the modern French word trouver, meaning “to find.” Traveling poets in the Middle Ages sang songs of love, but where we are now is a little different. For hundreds of years, poets have used song and musicians have collaborated with poets—using jazz as well as other types of music. The troubadours traveled but what did they find? Singer/songerwriters such as Bob Dylan have helped shape American consciousness, and jazz musicians and poets also have a rich history. From the time that Kenneth Rexroth and Langston Hughes collaborated with jazz musicians, writers have used music to explore the possibilities of literature and to awaken the spirit.

ROCKPILE Recap (5:00): Rockpile (David Meltzer, Michael Rothenberg, Terri Carrion) have been traveling throughout the Southwest and East Coast. These three poets bring us up to speed about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.

Troubadour Tradition (5:30): How have WORDS combined with MUSIC shaped and awakened our perceptions? From the Middle Ages to Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and beyond.

Jazz Stories: A Love Supreme (6:00): What are some first memories of your introduction to jazz? Favorite jazz poetry haunts?

Poetry and Jazz Stories (6:15): Who has influenced your poetic practice?—musicians and poets. Share some written words, whether it’s a few poems or essay excerpt. Read aloud from your work. Explain current projects.

Activism/Q&A—Where Do We go From Here? (7:30-8:00)


  1. Marina Lazzara says:

    I defend Poetry as a way of life. I can not write a “poem” for months and still say I’m a Poet. I defend any of our efforts (whether to many people or alone deep in thought of expansion) as Poetry. And I defend my right not to be recognized as anything more than mere human. And that Poetry is as natural to us all, as is song, as is breath. And I refuse to give in to the powers that be, that I have to exploit my own dignity as human or woman, to prove to anyone that I am Poet, and that I sing, and that no one owns anything or anyone or any thought…and that (as I”ve said before after overhearing someone say it before) ART is just another work in the middle of the word eARTh.

    marina (Log In Words: shredder N.Y.)

  2. Madgalene says:

    Meanwhile back at home, we’ve been doing our best to keep those Rockpile fires burning with a discussion of our own. Angar Mora at Cafe Arrivederci, San Raphael, hosted a panel on “How to Increase Consumption of Poetry by Non-Poets.” I was one of several panelists. First, I talked about where we are. The best illustration I could think of was the Katherine Hastings’ WordTemple reading last Friday. Katherine has been running this incredible reading series for several years now, bringing together nationally-renown poets and local poets. Many luminaries such as Michael McClure have read in this series as well as Rockpilers Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion. However, for no apparent reason, the bookstore that has been host to Wordtemple told Katherine that they would no longer host WordTemple. Katherine was able to scramble together a few readings at the County Museum, where they were good enough to let the poets read in the basement. Okay, here’s the punch line–not that there were several dozen people there, all poets, who were quite happy to be there–but the featured reader was Carol Muske-Dukes, the Poet Laureate of California! Okay, so Dana Gioia in his essay “Disappearing Ink” raised the question of why is it in a culture that obviously values the Word, especially the spoken (or read-aloud) word so much that Hip Hop, a genre of music that is rooted in the verbal, and is the genre that defines our era, just as Jazz defined the Jazz Age, why is it that poets are not making more of an impact? Gioia threw down the gauntlet and as I told those assembled (again a small group of twenty or so, but not a group to be found more dedicated and pure of heart, mostly poets but a couple visual artists sympathetic to our concerns) that it was Rockpile, not that they would be the only ones, but they were, to my mind, the best example I know of to pick up Gioia’s gauntlet and do more than just propose solutions, but, in fact, were enact them. Michael and Terri edit Big Bridge, which is the exemplar of online literary and art journals. Their online project on the Berkley Renaissance resulted in a great and necessary book. Of course, Rockpiler David Meltzer’s work in many fields is so well-known that I need do hardly more than reference it here. And now you have the three on them–David, Michael and Terri–on the road, taking their poetry and music across the country and jamming with some of the best musicians going in defense of a perhaps a new Troubadour tradition. And how they’re not only doing all that, but blogging their journey and thereby creating one of the most interesting blogs I’ve ever seen…video and everything else. So here are folks who are doing it all as far as I can see, online and offline. And in defense of the book? I have one word…well, the title’s one word but, actually I have four words. Do you want a defense of the poetry book? Well, okay, four words–“Choose” by Michael Rothenberg!!!!!! So, pretty much I told my listeners not that I expected them necessarily to do it all, but, at least to look to Rockpile for some good ideas! But I then said it wasn’t just a matter of expanding our reach via the availability of ever-expanding technologies, but it was also a question of dialing back and doing some soul-searching and thinking about what it was that each of us wanted to say and how best to say it, whether we be accoladed or not. Some of the panelists and attendees were educator-poets, and I said that while I applauded their efforts and were grateful to the teacher poets that were so important in my life, that I wasn’t an ambassador of Poetry per se, rather than I was interested in trying to help create a climate in which the works of each of us in whatever media could be better received by a larger audience. That the two questions that are constantly before us, are one) the creation of the work itself, and two) how to better get it before more people. I discussed a recent visit to SFMOMA. I saw video art, photographs and photographs (and not just any photographs but in some cases photographs of celebrities by a photographer who had been a celebrity himself). I saw sculptures made of any materials that could be found and made to cohere (and some that couldn’t). I found no defense of painting (admittedly SFMOMA was between shows) other than some recent paintings based on photographic images that had been downloaded off the internet and painted over. I suggested that we learn from our visual artist brethren–it’s all ART!!!! I’m not saying you have to like it all! Why do some people think that if it’s not written down in a book it’s not poetry (a relatively recent Modernist notion, by the way)? I defend the book, as does Michael Rothenberg, but I also defend poetry in conjunction with music, poetry as performance,poetry as theater, poetry in conjunction with visual art, poetry in film, poetry as hip-hop, poetry online, etc etc ad infinitum. I DEFEND ROCKPILE!!!!

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