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Jan. 2, 1959

Dear Jim,

Now that I see what you've selected, I wonder if you could include a special note explaining the nature of these poems:

      The poems on this record were written especially for presentation & interaction with a jazz group. They were written in a tentative language that would, when the music began, improvise & alter & revise & invent new words in dialogue with the music is sound & purpose. I'd bring a skeleton poem a 'head arrangement' of words -- & then would fill it in in performance, improvising in the same spirit as the players.

      The poet has to reinvent his poem in the same way the horn-player invents his solo. I write the bare-bones poem before I recite them with the music; it's like a lead-sheet. It's an inside job, listening or reading.

                                                                                    

     
The audience is the other part of the moment and the improvisation. It's full-circle in reception and recognition.

                                                                                    

     
To be honest, I get bored & frustrated looking at my dead words on the page in the surround sound of the living music around me.

                                                                                    

      My words are as impermanent as the music.

                                                                                    

      I lose touch. The musicians, too, forget the words I'm spilling & retreat easily into the safety of their own vocabularies.

      Two different souls singing two different songs together. United. Apart.
                                                                                   
      To be true, the poet must (1) write songs & (2) be able to sing them as well as Billie Holliday or Bessie Smith. There's no 'jazz poetry', even though there's poetic jazz. Poetry that rocks with the feeling of jazz.
      These are a few semi-truths I've learned for almost a year, working down in The Jazz Cellar in North Beach.


2005

Weird & wonderful. All of it. Right now red penciling galleys for Viking Penguin's of my selected poems*. Am fed up with me as much as I'm enchanted with me, who I was, am, will be, will never be. I was 22 when this session happened thanks to Jim Dickson who was Vaya Records, who produced the first LPs of Lord Buckley. He arranged a gig for me at the incredible Renaissance Club on Sunset Boulevard. It was like being in a movie set. A huge room with wall to wall windows looking over nighttime L.A. The musicians Jim got for the gig were impeccable: Ernie Williams, trumpet, Chiz Harris, drums, Larry Honings, bass, and Bob Dorough, piano. Memory melts here, but a group with Allen Eager followed our performance. As a bebop kid from Brooklyn who used to go to the kiddie corral in Birdland whenever possible, Eager held a legendary aura, in the same way in L.A. Wardell Gray held sway. The record session took place after the gig, when the audience went elsewhere and Eager went off to some pleasure dome. What you hear now is that after hours session. It startled me to hear my 22 year old self intoning my jazz poetry with energy and pomposity and certainty. So hip yet so clueless. Had to reconcile me then with me now, figure out where I'd gone in the journey to geezerdom. Then I heard Track 3 Little old ladies picking down Polk Street. For the past few weeks have been correcting the galleys of David's Copy: The Selected Poems of David Meltzer (Viking Penguin), scanning my work from 1957 to 2005 and, like this CD, it's a humbling experience. It's interesting to note that only one of the poems on the CD was ever published, since the jazz poems were written as a 'head arrangement,' some key words on a page, a beginning, middle, end, the rest was always made up, improvised, in performance. Am impressed by how the musicians got into the poems & how they responded to my words, especially Dorough who has been (& is) a significant player and singer-songwriter for five decades. Will certainly mention Dorough's activity in the '50s (he was on Jazz Canto, a World Pacific anthology of poetry & jazz, one of the early LPs attempting to wed the two forms). I always thought he sounded more like Hoagy Carmichael than Mose. But, who knows? Dorough has endured as a singer/songwriter/player wrote a lot of songs for kid TV, as well as for grown-ups --was the singer/songwriter on a '50s Miles Davis anti Xmas cut Ernie Williams's trumpet dialogue with my poems is wonderfully astute & attentive, considering most of the works I performed they were hearing for the first time.

      No need for broody woe and mull of time lost. Am still here & deeper into the groove as I get deeper into the grave. What do I know, what have I learned? The usual smart-ass answer: everything & nothing.


PS. Full-circle thanks to Jim Dickson, the musicians, the sweet comfort of the margins.

      So much to remember, to forget, amazing, and a-mazing like those weird twists life sets before us to navigate.

 



      *David's Copy: The Selected Poems of David Meltzer 9-27-05 available on Penguin Books