Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jazz and Haiku

Last April I did a post of Jack Kerouac and his love for jazz. The main attraction was Sam Charters long lecture on his friend, Kerouac, and tracing the influence of jazz improvisation on his poetry. Now, let's roam around his haikus and see how they are bound to the world of jazz.

Kerouac developed a new definition for American haiku in his journal Some of the Dharma which are short three-line confessional poems that served to enlighten. Kerouac explains the difference between Japanese Haiku and American Haiku, as quoted by Nervous Musings, this way:
"The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don’t think American Haikus should worry about syllables because American speech is something again…bursting to pop. Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella."

In 1958 Kerouac wound up in a recording studio with two of his jazz idols, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. The trio laid down American Haikus and then another five tune/poetry for an album called Blues and Haikus (Hanover, 1959). Next year,it followed by Poetry of the Beat Generation (Hanover, 1959), largely consisted of Kerouac reading novel extracts over a jazz backing, "this record attempted to connect the words directly with the music; Jack riffing quick bursts of bop-prose followed by skirmishing from Cohn and Sims," says Sid Smith.

It's a great case of painting with sound, and poetry of jazz (not "poetry and jazz" - I mean listen to the musical words of Al & Zoot). And see how musician can overtake the poet, how advance looking these musicians were and how they are historically ignored as far as a pure art form is concerned. For instance, how many people, or even how many jazz people, today remember the swing brothers, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims?

Here is Zoot with his natural sense of swing, and shimmering, mellow warmth on tenor, and Al with his more darkened sound, his top-notch rhythmic pattern and his unique structure of musical ideas. These two cats can turn any Haiku into a ballad.

American Haikus, 1958, Jack Kerouac, with Al Cohn (tenor sax ) and Zoot Sims (tenor sax), produced by Bob Theile

In my medicine cabinet,
the winter fly
has died of old age.

Well here I am
2 pm.
what day is it?

The tree
looks like a dog,
barking at heaven.

Prayer beads
on the holy book,
my knees are cold.

In the morning frost
the cats step,

No telegram today,
only more leaves

The castle of the Gandharvas,
is full of
aging young couples.

Early morning yellow flowers,
thinking about
the drunkards of Mexico.

The national scene,
late afternoon sun
in those trees.

boy smashing dandelions
with a stick.

Holding up my purring cat
to the moon,
I sighed.

August moon.
I got a boil on my thigh.

Drunk as a hoot owl,
writing letters
by thunderstorm.

All day long,
wearing a hat
that wasn’t on my head.

Beautiful young girls
running up the library stairs,
with their shorts on.

Crossing the football field,
coming home from work,
the lonely businessman.

Useless! useless!
heavy rain,
driving into the sea.

After the shower,
among the drenched leaves,
the bird thrashing in the bath.

The little worm,
lowers itself from the roof,
by a self shat thread.

Snap your finger.
stop the world.
rain falls harder.

too dark to read the page,
too cold.

In my medicine cabinet,
the winter fly
has died of old age.

Following each other
my cats stop,
when it thunders.

Spring evening,
the two
eighteen year old sisters.

The postman is late.
the toilet window
is shining.

hung out by moonlight,
friday night in may.

Empty baseball field,
a robin,
hops along the bench.

Black bird.
no! blue bird!
branch still jumping.

My rumpled couch,
the lady’s voice
next door.

The bottom of my shoes
are clean,
from walking in the rain.

why are you staring at me
I am not a flower.

The barn,
swimming in a sea
of windblown leaves.

sleeping on the flower,
your lights’ on.

Spring night.
the leaf
falling from the chimney.

 transcribed by Miray Nair

1 comment:

  1. Interesting contemporary haiku.... keep up the good work...

    May I share a Haiku for Leonardo da Vinci in https://youtu.be/udvnkgmjuQI