Monday, February 21, 2005

Riff, Resolve, Repeat

Had the great fortune to see the Lincoln Center Jazz Band (with Wynton Marsalis) last night, and I'm reminded all over again of the essential links between poetry and jazz. Like many people, I've always felt the connection between William Carlos Williams and Thelonious Monk (the spareness, the simple structures, the use of silence/rests), but I see very clearly and for the first time a direct parallel between the poem (or better, a series of poems) and the jazz performance. Follow:

- There's a structure. A melody. A theme, if you will, whose job it is to hold the mood together while providing space for the riffs - either the soloists or the departures in the poem, the things that deliver the unexpected and dynamic.
- In those riffs, there's an feel which has strong roots in the improvisational. It always has a feel of newness, and, done right, never takes you in the direction you expected.
- While the riff is the vehicle for delivering the energy, the surprise, it isn't the place the work leaves you. It delivers you through the highs and lows to someplace beyond. Forget the meadow beyond the woods analogy and think about the music you love. Am I right?
- Jazz comes in many styles: bebop and blues, fusion and classic, etc. But they all are true to the basics of the form: setup, riff, resolve.

OK, poetry isn't necessarily religiously improvisational, though I would argue poems with roots in improv (or that ride inspiration equally with craft) tend to be the better works. And I know many poets resist "resolution" in a neat sense, but we always find ways to end poems that feel satisfying to us, and these are usually different than the middles of our poems, no?

See if any or all of your poems fit. And next time you're stuck, feel free to call on
Dizzy to seduce the muse.


Pack Bringley said...

David: I like. Makes me think of the brilliant illustrator Saul Steinberg, who demoted any of his (or anyone else's) drawings that didn't seem rife with improvisational invention to the level of mere "homework."

David Vincenti said...

Thanks for stopping by, Pack. I have only a cursory knowledge of Steinberg. I'll have to spend some time with his work. Thanks for the tip.