» Archive for September, 2008

Poetry and Jazz: Red Bird dancing on Ivory

Friday, September 5th, 2008 by Martin Hester

Poetry and Jazz: Red Bird dancing on Ivory
Poetry by Christopher Logue, based on Pablo Neruda’s “Veinte poemas de Amor”
Jazz by the Tony Kinsey Quintet. Recorded from London BBC 1959.

                                       
 Neruda                                       Logue                                     Kinsey

Pablo Neruda’s 20 Love Poems are readily found in Brazilian bookshops, although they are by a Chilean poet writing in Spanish. Neruda says “…this is a pained and pastoral book which contains my most tormented adolescent passions, mixed with the powerful influence of Nature in the south of my country”. In fact, in each poem one can feel the strength of emotion, expressed in impressionist, very creative verbal images. They don’t form a coherent cycle, but run the gamut of emotions of passionate love, mixed with verbal images of the wind, the rain, hills, stars seen through trees….El agua anda descalza por las calles mojadas – “A rain walks barefoot through the street” – once heard, that’s an unforgettable description!

Christopher Logue is an English poet, now turned 80, who has published many poems and plays, but whose main legacy is “War Music”, a rendition of Homer’s Iliad which renders it into dramatic verse which is far from a translation. He has been working on this, and publishing it book by book, for over 40 years! But one of his accomplishments is poetry reading, which he does in beautiful English, with a fine natural sense of drama.

Tony Kinsey is a jazz drummer and – surprisingly – a composer of classical chamber music, who has had a long and successful career in the UK. In the 50s he had a five-strong group made up of trumpet, trombone, a pianist who also played vibraphone, bass and his own drums. They played a fluent, sophisticated chamber jazz, very agreeable, but free of the rebellious bluesy feeling of the American jazz musicians of that time.

Somehow, these diverse elements came together in the late 50s, and a broadcast of Poetry and Jazz was produced by the BBC – which was produced by George Martin, before he became famous as the “fifth Beatle”. Logue re-wrote some of Neruda’s poems, moving far away from the original, but putting them into wonderful impressionistic free verse which sounds great in English. He reads these like an actor, while the jazz group plays in the background, capturing perfectly the sentiment of the poems in the music – which appears to have a basic arrangement, plus improvised passages. The poems are now 11 in number, and have also been roughly ordered, becoming as it were a cycle of a love affair. Here are some samples –

Fascination and conquest
Lithe girl, brown girl
Sun that makes apples, stiffens the wheat
Made your body a joy
Tongue like a red bird dancing on ivory
To stretch your arm
Sun grabs at your hair
Like water was falling….

Here the music is fast, lyrical, but then becomes more contemplative for the second poem “Steep gloom among pine trees“….

Then the drums whip up the tension in
In the hot depth of summer
The morning is close, storm-filled
Clouds shift –
White rags waving goodbye
Shaken by the frantic wind as it goes and
As it goes
The wind throbs over us
Love-making silenced….

Contentment and fulfillment
By the sixth poem the poet has evidently conquered his girl –
Drunk
As drunk on turpentine
From your open kisses
 
Your wet body wedged between
My wet body
And the strake of our boat
That is made out of flowers
 
Open sky’s hot rim
The day’s last breath in our sails
 
Pinned by the sun
Between solstice and equinox
Drowsy, tangled together
We drifted for months…..

And the music is exactly that, drunk, contented, lost in time.

Disillusion and loss
But then, disillusion sets in –
Each day from the sky
The slow light falls
And the leaves fall
And the world falls too….

Why am I rocked then? Why?
Now gay – now melancholy
Now where you are, now not
Now with, and now without…..
 
But you are gone
Only the smell of you stays in the room
The wind cannot drive it out
Hush – someone’s foot is on the stair
Listen! Who calls? WHO RUNS OUT THERE?

Resignation
Then, with a sad ta-ta-ta-taat pattern from the drums –
Tonight
I write so wearily
Write, for example
I wanted her
And at times it was me she wanted
Write
The rain we watched last fall
Has it fallen this year, too?
She wanted me
And at times it was her I wanted
Yet it had gone, that want
And what is more
I do not care
It is more terrible then my despair
Over losing her

The night
Always vast
Grows enormous without her….
 

I have been of the opinion for years that this poetry and jazz is a great work of art, worthy of being in any gallery. The trouble is – what gallery? And even more to the point – where is the recording now?

I have put on the Good Listening site a home recording of the original BBC broadcast, plus all the words of the poems. This recording is a rarity (and the quality is not so good). Apart from this, apparently some of the poems plus jazz are available in a CD set called Audiologue – and something can be found on YouTube as well, but not the original broadcast.

Poetry and Jazz and memories of love affairs….

Good Listening!
__________________________________________________________________________

So here is the Poetry and Jazz –

 

1.

Lithe girl, brown girl

Sun that makes apples, stiffens the wheat

Made your body a joy

Tongue like a red bird dancing on ivory

To stretch your arm

Sun grabs at your hair

Like water was falling

 

Tantalize the sun if you dare

It will leave shadows that match you

Everywhere

Lithe girl, brown girl

Nothing draws me towards you

The heat within you beats me home

Like the sun at high noon

 

Knowing these things

Perhaps through

Knowing these things

I seek you out

Listening for your voice

For the brush of your arms against wheat

For your step among poppies grown underwater

Lithe girl, brown girl

 

 

2.

Steep gloom among pine trees

Waves’ surge breaking

Slow lights that interweave

A single bell

 

As the day’s end falls into your eyes

The earth starts singing in your body

As the waves sing in a white shell

And the rivers sing within you

And I grow outwards on them

As you direct them

Whither you make them run

 

I follow for you like a hare

Running reared upright to the hunter’s drum

You turn about me like a belt of clouds

the silence, though it is stupid

Mocks the hours I lay

Troubled by…… nothing

Your arms – translucent stones wherein I lie

Exhausted

And future kisses

Die

Lust

Your mysterious voice

Folds close echoes

That shift throughout the night

Much as the wind

Which moves darkly over the profitable fields

Folds down the wheat

From all its height

 

3.

In the hot depth of summer

The morning is close, storm-filled

Clouds shift –

White rags waving goodbye

Shaken by the frantic wind as it goes and

As it goes

The wind throbs over us

Love-making silenced

 

Among the trees like a tongue singing

A warning or just singing the wind throbs

And the quick sparrow’s flight is slapped by the wind

Swift thief destructive as waves

Weightless without form

Struck through and through with flame

Which breaks

Soughing its strength out

At the gates of the enormous, silent, summer wind

 

4.

That you may hear me

My words narrow occasionally

Like gull-tracks in the sand

 

Or I let them become

Tuneful beads

Mixed with the sound

Of a drunk hawk’s bell

 

Flick me your wrists…..

Soft as grape skin – yes

Softer than grapeskin I make them

Which is a kind of treachery against the world

 

Yet

You who clamber

Over all the desolations of mine

Gentle as ivy

Eat the words’ meaning

 

Before you came to me

Words were all that you now occupy

And now they’re no more these words

Than ever they knew of my sadness

 

Yet

Sometimes

Force and dead anguish still drags them

And yes

 

Malevolent dreams still betimes

Overwhelm them and then

 

In my bruised voice

You hear other bruised voices

Old agues crying out of old mouths

 

Do not be angry with me

Lest the wave of that anguish

Drown me again

 

Even as I sit

Threading a collar of beads for your hands

Softer than grape skin

Hung with a drunk hawk’s bell

 

 

5.

Hum, white bee

All drunk with honey

From that part of me the world calls soul

If all is said, white bee

Why speak at all

Except to leaves that leave a spiral of grey smoke

Around the twisting world

 

White bee

I am like one who could

Crinkle all the world and wide

In his palm’s small span

And had it read for him

And lost the smaller and the greater span

 

Imagining the earth as how he saw the world

And could not hold his tongue

My quiet one

 

Close your eyes

Wherein the slow light stirs

Strip off your clothes

Like new-cut flowers, your arms

Your lap as rose

 

 

Close your eyes

Wherein the slow light stirs

Breasts like paired spirals

Lap as rose

And mothy shadows in your thighs

The slow light stirs within your eyes

My quiet one

 

Rainfall

From the sea a stray gull

A rain walks barefoot through the street

Leaves on the trees are moaning like the sick

 

Though the white bee has gone

That part of me the world calls soul

Still hungers

The world is not so wide

I cannot hear its bell

Turn in the spiral of grey wind

My quiet one

 

 

6.

Drunk

As drunk on turpentine

From your open kisses

 

Your wet body wedged between

My wet body

And the strake of our boat

That is made out of flowers

 

Feasted, beguided

Our fingers lip-tallows

Adorned with yellow metal

 

Open sky’s hot rim

The day’s last breath in our sails

 

Pinned by the sun

Between solstice and equinox

Drowsy, tangled together

We drifted for months and woke

With the bitter taste of land on our lips

Eyelids all sticky

 

And we longed for lime

For the sound of a rope

Lowering a bucket down its well

 

Then

Came we by night

To the fortunate isles

And lay like fish

Under the net of our kisses

 

 

7.

Nimrod of the sky

Between two moons

Half a wind is anchored

 

In the darkening air it comes

And moon-blue metal scarves are forged

As the wind

Grown full between two hills

Comes tearing huge trees, wheat

And the dead

Out of the earth

Your face is turned to cloth

I cannot describe

It moves too much and too far off

Like desire

 

The wind

In the darkening air it comes

Then moon-blue metal scarves are forged

The wind

Grown full between two hills

Comes tearing huge trees, wheat

And the dead

Out of the earth

 

Grows up a little

Changes into bells

Buries the bells

And smelts them into a white knife up to the haft in my

Still red hot

In my still, red, hot……

 

Between two moons

Half a wind is anchored

Nothing may happen says the crow

His beak like a little hole

Full of litter

 

 

8.

Wings whirr by moon and midnight

Slatted moon hunched under the pine’s bark

Pines used as masts are varnished by the level moon

Sails like enormous flakes of rust

A bird hovers

Hovering close to the bollards

 

Your mouth is loose and wet

And my mouth covers it like a rag, dryly

Bells toll

The sun struggles to rise, it is hard

And rising, sillies the moon

Birds drown

Breath smells

 

No matter how hard you scream the birds are dead

No masts will curve

Nor the pine’s bark fall across

Your lime-white throat delicately

And if our body shouted out with both its voices

There is not breath enough

To fill even the smallest sail

So we may as well sleep here

Entwined as poor love’s twins

Who gasps around their fore-arm cradle

Where birds are strangled by the woman’s hair

And the man blames her

 

 

 

9.

Each day from the sky

The slow light falls

And the leaves fall

And the world falls too

 

What if I write your name on running water?

The water spun on it shall wither the two

Among these yellow leaves

Your limbs are stretched

More fair than they

Yet not so fair

For time will set less easily in thee

Than things that die

Turning down summer air

 

Outside

Grey rain falls slantwise

Down the sky’s lime white throat

And the wind drags anywhere old leaves

That are then come stick

On the side of a damaged moat

Filled with dead birds and water

But if you stay, I will bring

After the tempest, out of the hills

Some hazel-nuts and fruit

To ease your cares

Or  write your name on stone

Not running water

 

10.

Can you put shadows like this

Thick like this and……

What? You set birds free?

Your very light breaks energies

Hoods suns, drains seas

Shoe running horses

Ride them down a sword’s edge

Run open-mouthed through the streaming mist

Hands out, beating a drum as you leap

Stones, trees, deep holes!

 

Wearily

Changed?

And aye?

Hush!

Someone’s foot is on the stair

Listen!

Who calls? Who runs out there?

Stop! Stop!

Can shadows talk?

STOP!

 

Time passed, and no-one calls….

 

Why am I rocked then? Why?

Now gay – now melancholy

Now where you are, now not

Now with and now without but never still

Some kind bird will tell me it is not

What? You say no?

When you say no, your mouth is like a small red bitch

Barking in a box

And when you say yes

A wren flies out

Who builds his nest

In the side of a dead horse

 

But you are gone

Only the smell of you stays in the room

The wind cannot drive it out

Hush – someone’s foot is on the stair

Listen! Who calls? WHO RUNS OUT THERE?

 

 

11.

Tonight

I write sadly

Write, for example

Little grasshopper

Shelter from the midnight frost in the scarecrow’s sleeve

Advising myself

The night wind throbs in the sky

Tonight

I write so wearily

Write, for example

I wanted her

And at times it was me she wanted

Write

The rain we watched last fall

Has it fallen this year, too?

She wanted me

And at times it was her I wanted

Yet it had gone, that want

And what is more

I do not care

It is more terrible then my despair

Over losing her

 

The night

Always vast

Grows enormous without her

And my comforter’s tongue talking about her

Is a red fox barred by ivory

Where

Does it matter I loved

Too weak to keep her?

The night ignores such trivial disputes

She is not here

That’s all

 

Far off

Someone is singing

And if to bring her back

I look, and I run to the end of the road and shout, shout her name?

My voice comes back

The same, but weaker

 

This night is the same night

It whitens the same trees, casts the same shadows

It is as dark, as long, as deep and as endurable as any other night

 

It is true

I don’t want her

But perhaps I want her

Love’s not so brief that I forget her

Soul

 

Nevertheless

I shall forget her

And, alack, as if by accident

A day will pass in which I shall not think about her

Even once

 

And this

The last line I shall write her

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Reader: Christopher Logue

Tony Kinsey Quintet:  Les Condon (trumpet), Ted Ray (trombone), Kenny Napper (bass), Bill LeSage (vibes and piano), Tony Kinsey (drums).