jackie langetieg | jazz

2 06 2010

Poetry Dispatch No. 322 | June 2, 2010


Jazz *

I don’t want to go to Chet Baker’s house

Let him come to me, lean his back against
the scene of ancient Chinese mountains in my living room
Let me serve him Metaxa brandy in a water glass

Don’t let the smoke leave the room—nothing should fly out
on the wings of notes coming from his horn, his voice, his hands
words left hanging on black clefs of minor chords

I’m loose on the sofa, robe slightly open hoping he’ll notice
baby grand ready for the touch of his fingers
like the counting of my ribs, each finger placed surely
on the steps of my spine

I feel his concentration on the music
I’m just a body temporarily in his way for tonight
The old serrated trees on the panel behind me sway
and fantasy fills my head. The music trails off and he joins me

We speak little, lie to each other, talk of insignificances
Soon dawn is opening the curtains of night and he drives off leaving
me lost in the smoky night music still at play in the room.

Editor’s Note: * First publication of this poem

About the Author: Jackie Langetieg, Verona, Wisconsin, is the author of three books of poetry and has been published in journals and anthologies, most recently in “Love Over 60: an anthology of women’s poems,” edited by R. Chapman and J. McCormick and published by Mayapple Press.

al degenova | the blueing hours

2 12 2009

Poetry Dispatch No.302 | December 2, 2009

Al DeGenova

When I consider some of my original intentions in starting a small press some fifteen years ago, and when I look at the book of Al DeGenova’s poems I published in BACK BEAT (CR+P #15, 2001), along with Charles Rossiter, I couldn’t be more pleased considering all Al has accomplished since then, including his most recent book, THE BLUEING HOURS, Virtual Artists Collective, 2008, (http:// vacpoetry .org).

While the hum of Kerouac and Co. drove much of his word-music in BACK BEAT, there is all that and much more in THE BLUEING HOURS, and its three parts: “The Red Hours, “The Black Hours,” and “The Blueing Hours.”

Maybe ‘blue’ is the working. defining metaphor for all he has to say and sing. Al’s drive is music, Chicago, family, relationships, the poem as ‘memoir’ to some degree…and something bordering between eroticism and love–not a bad ‘red’/‘blue’ place to be, though a hell of a territory to define, call your own.

My idea with CR+Press was to help launch, publish a limited edition, ‘first book’ by writers who could show me something. And not publish a second printing, no matter how well the book may have sold. My preference was to put my efforts in another first book by another new–or older small press writer who had faded into obscurity.

My hope was that the writer would ride the wave of the first book and, when he or she was ready with the next manuscript, find a new, different publisher. Continue to expand, grow make a name/reputation. New horizons. Many publishers. All this was part of the learning process. Al did this—and more. Even found another publisher to reprint the first, best-selling book, BACK BEAT. I could not be prouder of him.

He continues to bring his own kind of music to the writing. Continues to find new pathways to the interior. He is also the publisher/editor of one of the best literary magazines coming out of Chicago, AFTER HOURS.

Here are some poems from THE BLUEING HOURS which capture much of what I see and applaud in the man and his art. —norbert blei

Chicken Shack Blues

We were to play together
a gig, father and son
sax and piano
like some modern-day notion
of vaudeville, or
talent night at the PTA.
I taught him a greasy
fried and dirty blues
like teaching him to tie a half-Windsor
or drink beer
or to live in the wilderness
with what we carried on our backs –
blues in G, that’s what I said
anxious to relive some smoky jam session memory,
as if there were some
in those 12 bars.
We’ll learn Chicken Shack.
He said,
it’s just a blues.
a blues
so nonchalant
as if there were nothing to it.
But at least
the first time he played
“Chicken Shack”
it was with
tenor’s voice
growling low G
a father playing the blues
for his son
opening the door
to free the red rooster
to feed the gray fox.

Living History

Hemingway’s breath still lingers
here on this street, my street,
his street.
Did he ever walk across
my lawn, sit on my porch
on his way to school, the same school
my sons sit in now?
I walk past his boyhood home,
look up to his third-floor bedroom.
The light is on tonight in that center window.
Whose 17-year-old shadow
contemplates the glory of war?
Do those old floorboards still hold
the crescent moons of his fingernails?
If matter and energy can never be destroyed,
then history is a fishbowl –
we share this same water for eternity.
The song Hemingway hears
as he runs to catch a football
is my voice, my son’s piano from our open door
then, if it’s all true
I swim in the same salty Mediterranean
where my grandfathers wash their feet.
I touch the skin of the dead then,
when I write my name in the dust
on my brother’s Manhattan bookshelves
and the dead know me, know I am
here – now – trying to taste
their history like a ripe plum
like sour mash, like
all the lovers who’ve kissed my lover’s lips.
We are the ancient dirt beneath our feet,
are the Nazis, the Popes, the Michigan militia
all the hot dog vendors on Bourbon Street,
we are the Presidents, we are the bombs,
the dead babies, the homeless garbage eaters,
we are history—
the waiter delivers our fathers’ tabs,
and we pay, we pay.


A small move
white key to black
one half-step forward or back
colors major with minor
the smallest distance
between piano keys
transforms gospel to blues
Mozart to Monk.

The twitch of a muscle
sounds a missed note
pinches the corners of a frown
winks an eye
pronounces a wrong word
brushes a finger against a cheek.

To think the end
of a concerto hangs
precariously on the touch
of one little finger as
delicately as an explanation
between wife and husband
of the phone call
that rings dissonance
the caller outside the chord.

Souring Metaphors

Crows line the horizon.
The milk in your breasts sours.
The piano is out of tune.
Your cheeks smell like mascara.
You walk through the valley of fear.
I fix the plumbing.
I carry the groceries.
You are the wind at the curtains.
I read suicide poems.
Your voice calls from a locked steel box.
I read without light.
You eat the leftovers.
You pull the weeds.
I smear gray ink.
You scream at the laundry.
You scream
at the laundry.

[from the BLUEING HOURS, Virtual Artists Collective, 2008, http://vacpoetry.com]

Much more on Albert DeGenova with listening examples can be found here…

henry denander | 6 poems on writing, writers, fatherhood, marriage, jazz, jazz musicians, fame & much more

30 04 2009

Henry Denander by Henry Denander

Poetry Dispatch No. 279 | April 30, 2009


6 Poems
Writing, Writers, Fatherhood, Marriage, Jazz, Jazz Musicians, Fame
Much More

My first encounter with Henry Denander was not the written word but the image.

Evidence of him. His art. His watercolors. In the summer, 2007 issue of my friend, t.k. splake’s (and artistic ed., Jikiwe’s) putting-it-all-together, as they did, in a lively, color drenched, fine-papered, got-your-attention little ‘off-the-road’ lit-mag from Up-North/copper-country, Michigan: THE CLIFFS, “Soundings”. (That may or may not still exist, given the short life-span of these heartfelt, time/dollar-wrenching, often thankless endeavors).

A treat to the eye. A keen eye to the ‘Beat’-ing word. I saw Henry’s front cover of a guy with a tall, yellow hat, a hand, a blue rabbit-cat, a couple of mountains off in the distance, a house, maybe the sun (and saw something/someone in this instantly), then flipped it over to the back cover, and…ah, Jazzy…sax-man in blue, blowing fire down his horn, blowing his scrambled gold head off. Yes. I’ve been here before. I know the color of this music…

Bring front and back covers together and what I saw/see in Henry, was one I’ve harbored in my imaginary/image-marrying of words and paint, of my own self for more than forty years: Miller time. (Not the beer.) But the Henry Miller time-man who taught many a writer: Though it’s all in the words—it’s in the watercolor too. Drink it all. Work a little color in those hands.

What I’m saying is I found another compadre. Immediately. A writer-painter-man after my own heart. And if there was any doubt, all I had to do was open the front cover, and there it all was on the fly-leaf. Miller’s Greece. Henry’s Greek Island of Hydra; my Greek Island of Rhodes, village of Lindos. All the white houses watercolor-washing down to the blue Aegean.

One way or another all that we love…we meet all again–in spirit. It’s not a matter of being unable to go home again. It’s a matter of knowing where to find it—the words and pictures that put you there when you need it.

I HARDLY KNOW THIS GUY! But I do. In that instance of image alone. And know him even better as I grow more familiar with his written lines. You’ll see what I mean, those reading him for the first time. You’ll find yourself smiling when you least expect it. (Oh, yeah…he got that right.) Smile..

It was not my intention to say much here. I’ve said enough already. Henry can more than speak for himself in words and images. I just want to introduce or re-introduce you to delight. In case you need it. Or are looking.

There are those, I know, who may find these poems too simple, too easy, “just talk.” I think Locklin put it best in his Foreword to Henry’s, I KNOW WHAT SHE WILL SAY: “…contemporary poetry can be about anything and it can be in any format and style (as long as it has the properties of music, and even they may be inconspicuous).”

Even so, I still see at least one critic “harumpfing” in the distance, not buying it, whether the music goes ‘round an’ round” or not.

‘Hey,’ I’m fixing to say: “Everything’s a poem. When you’re there, it’s there. The problem is getting there. —Norbert Blei

Airhead by Henry Denander


for some years i have been trying to write
poetry, my literary heroes like bukowski and
locklin and fante (both John and dan) were
writing in english and all my friends in the
literary world were in america so i started to
write in english as well.

when i recently read a poem by locklin i felt how poor
my language was when i saw how beautifully he writes
and how broad his language is and how he uses words
that i didn’t even know about.

being Swedish my english vocabulary is not
very big of course.

now i’ve bought a synonym lexicon, suddenly
i realize there are many words to choose from,
many of the words i find in this book i have
never seen before but they sound really nice
when i try to pronounce them.

i will use some of them in my next poem.

conceivably the solitary negative aspect is that
my acquaintances who appreciate me and my
written and verbal communication will not be
sufficiently proficient to recognize my
technique in my forthcoming poems.

[from: I KNOW WHAT SHE WILL SAY, Foreword by Gerald Locklin, Bottle of Smoke Press, 503 Tuliptree Square, Leesburg, VA 20176, $5 ]

Keith Jarrett? | by Henry Denander

headache & a cup of coffee

keith jarrett is fingering away
some well known melodies
all by himself
more controlled than he usually is
hesitating to take off without the bass
and the drums
perhaps waiting for them
to arrive

trying to get the guts to go to the office
and do some work this Saturday but i ‘ve got a headache and
i ended up in front of the computer

my wife and young son are visiting the Mother-in-law
over the weekend
i will call them later
tell them i have been working all day

i am surfing on the net and sending emails and answering letters and
writing a long poem
about the time i met chet baker in london
in 1986

making a cup of coffee from the greek coffee that we brought home
from hydra
it’s nescafe but in the greek way

tastes great
stir it into hot milk and you are
in java paradise

it started to snow again yesterday
bad news
now it’s five in the afternoon and
still light outside
i think the winter
wtil slowly leave now

thinking of writing a poem about just nothing
or perhaps about the things i have been doing today

i’ll think about it

we’ll see

[from: I KNOW WHAT SHE WILL SAY, Bottle of Smoke Press, 2002, 503 Tuliptree Square, Leesburg, VA 20176, $5 ]

The Denander family by Henry Denander

The last stanza

I had a letter from a magazine editor
saying he passed on my poems, which
is fine of course, but in the end he
added that he really liked one of my
poems up to the last stanza which he
didn’t like at all.

I liked the letter from the editor except
his last stanza.

[from: WEEKS LIKE THIS, Poems & Artwork, Bottle of Smoke Press, 2005]

Blue Guitar by Henry Denander


I told my wife about the incident at
our son’s school today when a new
girl in his class asked me if I was
William’s grandfather.

-If it had been someone else
maybe they would have taken it
really badly but for me it was OK,
I am cool, I said

-But you’re not THAT cool about it
are you? my wife said, rubbing it

And later when I shaved off my three
weeks old grey beard I thought that
maybe she was right.


[from: WEEKS LIKE THIS, Poems & Artwork, Bottle of Smoke Press, 2005]

Miles Davis by Henry Denander

Jazz memory

I called Anders and we tried to remember how many times
we had seen Miles Davis in concert in Stockholm over the
years and we double-checked with a discography of all
his live recordings.

Anders was not sure but he vaguely remembered that we’d
been to the concert in 1982 at Konserthuset when Mike
Stern and Marcus Miller had been in the band.

I wasn’t sure at all.

But Anders remembered that one time we had been out
drinking before a Miles Davis gig and we had been really
drunk at the concert. This must have been the 1982

It must have been a great concert—we don’t remember

[from: WEEKS LIKE THIS, Poems & Artwork, Bottle of Smoke Press, 2005]

Blues for Retirement – based on Gerald Locklin’s poem by Henry Denander


Our neighbor on the next floor is a well-
known author. His latest book was a big
event here in Sweden. It’s 794 pages
long and I am mentioned in the book. In
one sentence he writes that he wakes up
in the middle of the night and can’t go
back to sleep because his neighbor is
snoring so loudly. If these were my
fifteen words of fame perhaps I was
expecting something more.

[from: I KNOW WHAT SHE WILL SAY, Bottle of Smoke Press, 2002, 503 Tuliptree Square, Leesburg, VA 20176, $5 ]

Kamini Press by Henry Denander

was started in 2007, named after a small village on Hydra island. The editor has had his summer house there for 12 years and the name is in homage to some former “neigbours” in the village. In 1939 Henry Miller arrived together with Katsimbalis (the Colossus himself) to visit the artist Ghikas in his mansion overlooking the Kamini harbour. Miller describes this in “The Colossus of Maroussi”. The ruins of Ghikas’ house are still there. The poet, author and singer Leonard Cohen’s house is also close by in the Kamini village. It was there that he wrote many of his songs and books. The beautiful photograph on the back cover of “Songs From a Room” was taken in his Kamini house.

Kamini Press publishes fine poetry in handmade, self assembled chapbooks, usually together with original cover art. Most books also come in limited editions with watercolors.

No rush jobs, one book per year was the idea, but this is flexible and we try to keep up the tempo.

We like to present the poetry in a good way, to respect the writers. We agree with the great publisher William Packard of the New York Quarterly, who said he wanted to present the printed poem in the best possible way; he thought that “bad printing and mediocre book design inevitably militate against a fair reading of a poem”. He even found different typeface for each poem in his magazine. We don’t do that, but we agree on his thoughts.

We do not take submissions at this time, as we have plans already for the next two years.

ron offen | mike kohler | bill jacobs | miller hanks | poetryjazz quartet

12 03 2008
Poetry Dispatch No. 216 | March 11, 2008

POETRYJazz Quartet

Ron Offen (on horn) | Mike Kohler (Blues vocalist) | Bill Jacobs (on vibes) | Miller Hanks (on drums)



From scratchy 78s with Bird
announcing sloppy chops
could say as much as tight-ass
technicalities of Clifford Brown;

to long-played Kind of Blue
maintaining silences between the notes
could fill the ear as full
as the cascades of Dizzy’s slippery bop;

or ‘Valentine (my favorite work of heart)
flashing more new smiles
as you got lost to find
another shade of colors;

then Bitches Brew’s new voodoo
leaving everything behind
bedeviling the past with tracks
of new and new and new for miles;

until your only groove was out beyond,
the fuse on which you sparked
a wired electric vision — popping,
rocking with a new age horn;

now leaving us again at sixty-four
I hear the rasp of your bemused,
accusing voice put down, well shit!
it just ain’t hip to live too long.

*First appeared in The Mockingbird



Blues TimXes 2, to Ya by Mike Kohler

Never pass up a chance to listen to the blues.
Maybe it is not to your taste,
or there is no time, or the years
have numbed you to the point
all the songs in life are just background noise.
In the darkest hour of your night,
blues dances up the stairs, waits for you
to open the door.
It has a pint of whiskey, a pack of smokes,
and till sunrise to hear everything you have to say.
Even when you are up and life is good
and you can sleep at night
listen to a blues song.
Go quiet as an empty hallway
waiting for footsteps and a knock,
and know the blues will always be there.

I know it would be cool to admit
to smoking tea, swaying to Coltrane and
Mingus, spacing out,
drinking cheap white wine,
pretending its cool to rebel.
Like that time with Kerouac,
all those other beat catch phrases.
Not my bag.
Put some Cream in my tea,
a Spoonful, no more,
Momma needs a new dress,
I need new shoes,
and when I wake up I know
the Thrill Is Gone.
Jazz is after Midnight,
smoky and tired. Blues is
the walk home, eying shadows,
holding the pistol in your pocket.

[Thanks for the poems, Norb. Gimma a poem, gotta have a poem, i needa poem, oh wait, here’s one. Ya need a poem?]



Jazz Chicago / Bill Jacobs

Plugged Nickel

Hunched down, hunkered down
closed in on the horn, the valves like jewels, the fingers like spiders.
The tight smoky eyelids looking in their own direction
oblivious to whoever is listening.

Who cares. So what.

How can disdain sound so good?

Ode to Joe

The low ceiling all black with spots
highlighting the smoke falling down on the stirring crowd
waiting patiently for the music.

And out comes Joe as if announcing a prizefight speaking of
champions soon to set foot in his ring that he calls the Showcase.

The stunning drum set stands silently behind waiting impatiently
to explode.

Sardine Bar

Not five feet away a line of golden tubes fence off Lionel as he wails with
mallets surrounding us in waves of sounds
in the confines of the smallest club in town.

Sleek, sexy, chromium accents set off the pale gray walls
containing the brilliant colors pouring forth from the
tenorman’s horn as he takes the tune to the next level.



by Miller Hanks


August 17, 1999—the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis’, KIND OF BLUE.
Bill Evans & Wynton Kelly on piano; Cannon Ball Adderly. on alto sax, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Paul Chambers, bass & James Cobb on drums…

Evans wrote the liner notes on the old vinyl album comparing Miles’ artistry to that of Japanese sumi painters who practice a lifetime the discipline of getting it down right in a single stroke.

Before the recording session forty years ago, Miles made a few sketches concerning what he wanted them to play.
And each man went his own way
Without exception, said Evans, every piece in the album was recorded in one take.

“So What” “Freddie Freeloader” “Blue in Green “ “Flamenco Sketches” “All Blues”

Nobody knows where the time went.
It was all over.
It’s still here.

KIND OF BLUE is the best selling jazz album in the world and still sells 5,000 copies a week. No one can quite explain its popularity.

Except it is something close to perfect…
the beautiful imperfection of jazz.

Be in the dark,
Hear the blue prayer

Broken Wing

Chet tells it in
his auto bio graphy:
(The Lost Memoir)

Tells it as he lived it
once, early on, playing trumpet
in the 6th Army Band…
It’s all about flying
Finding the music
With both feet on the ground.

Tells about that time in the army band,
his second hitch, when the foot soldier musician
had played just about enough grounded omp pa pa
and sought a discharge
like some of his other mad-hatter friends in the band
who had feigned a way to freedom..

“Right about that time two
flute players had managed to get out,” says Chet. “One guy
put himself in a trance & was carried out,
no stretcher,
stiff as a board by two army corpsmen
who jabbed a pin into the bottom of his foot
to no avail.”

The other guy told the band leader:
“There’s a little man inside my flute.
and he’s playing all the wrong notes.”

Both flute players went free, discharged.
While Chet admitted smoking grass,
chimed to shrinks about lack of privacy on the toilet ,
took tests where he always chose
the most feminine answer,
till he couldn’t claim less than life anymore and
went AWOL—a third of the band following suit.
only to turn himself in in time, come clean,
spend three weeks in the stockade and be given a
general discharge,
deemed “unadaptable to Army life”

And so returned and sentenced himself to a life of jazz instead

joining Stan Getz’s band for awhile…
then finally footloose and free…
freeing himself in his own sound:

Chet Baker & Strings, l954
Chet Baker Sings, l954
Alone Together, l955
Reunion, l957
It Could Happen to You, 1958
Chet Is Back l962
Cool Burnin’; l965
Into My Life, l966
Blood, Chet and Tears, l970
You Can’t Go Home Again, l977
Broken Wing, l979

Forever hooked and flying higher (“as though he had wings”)
till Amsterdam,1988,
flying through a second story hotel window
3 in the morning…
fallen notes
broken wing

unto the earth’s return
without a sound…
save what he left up there
in the night sky
down here for us


john harvey | blue monk

29 02 2008
Allen Ginsberg and Thelonious Monk
Poetry Dispatch No. 212 | February 28, 2008


Continuing with the jazz theme, begun yesterday with Dave Etter…there is so much more to say and write.(More too on Etter, coming in the near future.) Consequently, I will re-visit this jazz-poetry theme more often in Poetry Dispatch.

What can I say about today’s poet, John Harvey? Not much. I know him not all. But for this book. This is yet another instance (destruction of a myth) … concerning the matter of “judging a book by its cover.”

I remember walking into a Chicago bookstore one night about 5 years ago…drifting into the poetry section, seeing the title “BLUER THAN THIS” on the spine, pulling the book off the shelf on the strength of that title alone…being totally knocked out by the cover painting, the color of blue, not to mention the quote from the New York Times: “He sings the blues for people too bruised to carry the song themselves.” (Jesus, another poet!).

You know how it is when a book just calls you? “You’re going to buy because it feel right , take me home with you, love me, even though you know zilch about me.”

And, of course, the book is right. Love at first sight. A true ‘find.’ Wouldn’t part with it for the world.

If that wasn’t enough for a sure sale right there that night the blue book lured me by its cover alone, I had to open it and read/hear poem after poem that sounded as good as any night in any Chicago jazz joint…though the poet hailed from over there, across the pond.

Enough…check this number he does on Monk…and more. Norbert Blei


Blue Monk by John Harvey

For all the world as if he has just walked in off the street, a gas company official, a removal man, something humdrum; when he sits at the piano it is as any man, unconcerned, might sit at a bench in the park, ease the weight from his feet, so palpable, the relief with which he sinks, broad, into the quilted leather of the seat; his topcoat, which he makes no attempt to undo, strains tight across his back, one or two stitches at the shoulder have snapped; squat on his head Monk is wearing a black and white checkered hat.

And now a scattering of applause has started haphazardly around the hall; it is an age before he edges back his cuffs and stretches out his hands.

Driving through Camberwell
the rain slides black across the windscreen
and as we pass the lights for the third time
you push a cassette into place,
the click and hiss of tape and then it’s him.
Rhythm-a-ning. Charlie Rouse on tenor, Sam Jones on bass,
Art Taylor at the drums. New York City, February, 1959.
A hundred years ago.

The critics at this time damn him with scant regard, another black jazzman touring Europe, parading his few tricks for a handful of krona and a pocketful of praise. But tonight, in Rotterdam or Oslo, Gothenburg – where doesn’t matter – this is different. Monk is on. Audience forgotten, that oversize right foot pounds down at an awkward angle; this is not the night to watch a legend running through what legends do, respectfully, and so the crowd cranes forward, reaching for the fire that flares so unexpectedly, so close to the end of this life.

Inside his overcoat, under his chequered hat, Monk is lost and doesn’t care if he’s never found. Doesn’t give a good Goddamn. His fingers stab at single notes, crush chords; roll with the tide then tighten down. His hands seek and find warm spaces lost between the keys, laughter strung across the dark like lights of fishermen spaced out along the beach, phosphorescence on the sea, like Whistler’s Nocturne in Blue and Gold, the glow of radio stations long into the night.

I carry my wine across the room to where you sit
and we stare out across this London square, these Londonstreets.
I hear draw up outside the cab to take me home.
What if, on that precipice of kitchen, all those years ago,
instead of rinsing those last dishes at the sink,
I’d taken both your hands in mine and said
I would go with you, no matter where, no matter what?

Monk gets up from the piano as casually as he sat down, troubled by the memory of a promise he once made and now can neither remember nor forget. In the small hotel room with a view over the air ducts and the kitchens, a bottle of brandy stands half-drunk beside the bed.

I can never again watch your dress fall to the floor or rest my breast against your breast, my mouth pressed to yours to stop it with a kiss.

C minor, F 7th, B flat -nothing can be bluer than this.


cov_bluer.jpegfrom BLUER THAN THIS Smith/Doorstop Books, England, 1998


Born Storytellers & Sensuous Language
Jane Holland

John Harvey, in his latest collection, Bluer Than This, (also) relies on narrative for many of his poems, but stylistically he is on another planet. The tone is sensuous and assured, but somehow always vulnerable, jerking you back from the story to the person behind it, in a way that ultimately reminds you of a world outside the poem without robbing the poem of its integrity: ‘His shirt so white that to turn and look / at it would be to be blinded by the moon’ (‘Couples’). I have an on-going line-break argument with Harvey—here, I would have preferred ‘at it’ on the previous line—but again, this is a question of risk-taking and how bold choices force an examination of language and its patterns onto the reader, which can only be good. It’s not simply about variety for its own sake. It’s about finding the right ‘sound’ for the poem, rather than being fatally pedestrian and so failing to see how a poem can take off if given enough space to do so. Harvey is unafraid of making radically different choices from line to line:

Though dead,
my father is still dying,
oh, slowly, sure and slow as the long fall of rain

Harvey plays with form in a delightful way, never satisfied with the way he’s successfully ‘made’ a poem before, but always looking for new ways of ‘making’ them. I’m using the word ‘make’ deliberately, of course. Too much emphasis is currently put on the poet as ‘writer’ rather than ‘maker’. Harvey takes his work more seriously and does not simply let the words flow in the name of inspiration. The result is a collection which positively drips with unexpected shapes; the shape a poem makes on the page forming part of the whole experience of reading it. Harvey moves quite comfortably from prose poetry to free verse to the suggestion of a subtle rhyme scheme without once appearing to strain after form. A mildly laconic American influence suits Harvey perfectly. There are none of the wild gestures of youth in a line like this from ‘Blue Settee’, with its leanings towards the metaphysical: ‘This kiss starts high at the nape of the neck / and makes a new map of the world’. With Bluer Than This, John Harvey has contributed something admirable, and soothingly readable, to the chaotic and ever-shifting map of the poetry world.



The editor at Slow Dancer is John Harvey, who is himself a fine poet. His second collection, Bluer Than This, (Smith/Doorstep Books), contains pieces about jazz, (Chet Baker, Lester Young), painting (Edward Hopper, Howard Hodgkin), and love; there is a tenderness here that many British poets do not risk, a keen eye for the details of family life, for the signs and gestures we live by, and for the moments of insight and realisation we keep to ourselves:

and when your eyes widen and, uncertain
whether or not to kiss me,
you hold out, instead, your hand,
I will slip into it those remedies I have long carried:
the knowledge that, nurtured, passion flowers
in the darkest place

(‘The U.S. Botanical Gardens, Washington D.C.’)


What is perhaps most striking in Bluer Than This is Harvey’s extraordinary empathy. His insights into the minds and hearts of others, whether they be family and friends, or figures from the world of painting or music, are consistently sharp and clear, yet this poet is always aware of the limits, and the possible limits, of our knowledge: as much as he wants to understand and penetrate the mystery of the other, he never forgets that it is this very mystery that makes all communication miraculous. Bluer Than This is published by Smith/Doorstop Books.

ANDY BROWN reviews BLUER THAN THIS ,Orbis, Winter 1998


In an excellent collection of poems strongly influenced by contemporary jazz and painting, John Harvey presents his tenderly understated poems exploring intimate and family relationships. The jazz is covered by poems on Thelonious Monk— ending with the poignant “C minor, F 7th, B flat / nothing can be bluer than this.”— Charlie Parker and others, with a short poem about Chet Baker who “…knows this is one of those / rare days when he can truly fly.” The painting poems deal with Bonnard, Vuillard, Edward Hopper, Corot and Howard Hodgkin. In an astute comment lan McMillan has noted that Harvey’s work has a ‘genuinely transatlantic feel.’ McMillan is right: the jazz, the art, the thrilling conversational tenderness of poems like “Seven Year Ache” on Frank O’Hara:

…O’Hara at fifty,
knocked over by an errant jeep on the beach; his mother
frail from hospital and drying out,
tumbling yellow roses into his grave. Such waste!
Each day that’s lived is lived in hope and in regret.
We die each day and not from love but lack of it…

Such great moments resurface throughout this book and its stories of love known and love lost build up to make this a deeply moving collection. Whether Harvey gets us there in a poem about young Americans wrecked on drink, then dead in a car wreck; or “the duality of grief and joy, relief / and guilt ·” of the couples in the poems about Hopper paintings, Harvey does it inimitably. As he notes in “North Coast”: “What is never shared, cannot be lost.” The fact that Harvey seems to have shared so much in his life and poems only intensifies the impact of the losses. That he achieves this in a poetry that is neither wistful nor sentimental, rather tender and epiphanic, singles him out as a uniquely readable poet of great integrity.

JIM BURNS reviews BLUER THAN THIS ,Ambit No 156, Spring 1999


There’s an engaging rolling feeling to the best of John Harvey’s poems, as if each one had started with an idea, memory, or observation, and then gathered momentum and expanded as it moved down the page:

Now the rain is falling
and the petals that have already fallen
pink and white, float up around us as we walk,
your smile suggesting how close you are to forgetting
the lover who so recently left you,
and so we continue, ducking into a corner pub
and there, facing you, I catch myself drawn to you
and I can tell we are both wondering
about this dwindling distance between us,
how perilously a kiss would close that space.

The autobiographical content is typical, as is the directness, and the everyday language. The poems sound like someone talking, which is to their credit, and the voice that comes through is consistent. A somewhat melancholy tone is often apparent as relationships come to an end, the poet looks back on lost loves, and sadness nudges at the narrative. Harvey’s interest in jazz reflects this tendency, with poems about musicians like Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Chet Baker, who all declined as the years passed and died in sad circumstances. In one poem, “Blue Monk”, he neatly blends a jazz performance with memories of an old flame in a way that highlights the last line — “nothing can be bluer than this”.

Harvey does write about other things besides jazz and love affairs, and there are good reflections on childhood, family life, visits to America, and art. Corot, Edward Hopper, Vuillard, and Howard Hodgkin, all get a look in. And what comes through at all times is the sheer readability of the poems. I freely admit to sharing Harvey’s liking for jazz, films, and American poetry, but it isn’t just this that makes me admire his work. The poems just pull you in and carry you along with their relaxed but effective approach. They are like good stories:

Once, we stayed here, out of season,
arcades and the Magpie Café closed,
clouds massed like bulkheads in the northern sky
and around the municipal bandstand
only the melismatic cry of gulls.
Close by our feet, winter lay coiled like rope.
At night hope hung across the water like a child.
What is never shared cannot be lost.

It’s like the opening of a good film and it makes me want to know what comes next.

Paul Donnelly reviews BLUER THAN THIS , Tears in The Fence, Summer 1999


Intimacy is one word I often associate with the poetry of John Harvey. The reader is invited to witness love with its attendant failures and successes, family and friends, both dead and living and the commonplace details that make a life. I’m not sure where fact and fiction blur at times. I’m not sure it matters either.
Look at ‘Slow’ with its twin dedication to Lee Harwood and Paul Evans.The poem gently connects the strands of their lives with Harvey’s and the presence of another, unnamed, character, a lost lover maybe.These meetings and memories, reconstructions of the past, merge with a present and compare scales of loss. Small, intimate glimpses that also show life continuing, as it must. This is also evident in ‘By The Numbers,’ a kind of diary of a day’s events with digressions and remembrances:

Art Pepper’s keening saxophone —
Leicester it was I saw him, eighty one or two…

He brings together music, food, writers he loves, family and friends:

How many friends
are living, how many have died.

Ray Carver rubs shoulders with Jimmy Stewart and the ‘girls I was in love with’. It’s a poem which celebrates in the face of mortality and vows to keep going because there are things to do. It isn’t just the past and present that matters but tomorrow and

all the days that come after —
infinite and uncountable.

I like the way the poem discloses a life and its links with so many others, the details that mesh so seamlessly and the openness — a word often used about Lee Harwood — that pulls you in. Of course, you can’t read John Harvey without coming across some of his preoccupations with music and painting. He celebrates Roland Kirk, Chet Baker and Charlie Parker, not for the first time. These, or versions of the poems, have featured in previous collections and on the cassette with jazz quartet Second Nature, Ghosts Of A Chance. Here he is also revisiting Lester Young in ‘Sometimes I’m Happy,’ a sort of synopsis of parts of his life and death. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know Young. It’s a sometimes tender and Iyrical portrait shot through with the harshness of his life. The presentation of his brilliant, flawed character is moving and honest. Paintings are present in the shape of Edward Hopper and Howard Hodgkin, both very different artists. Harvey makes use of the suggestive narrative possibilities of Hopper and responds to the light and intense colour of Hodgkin’s ‘After Corot.’ Both offer different aspects of the poet’s style and are equally compelling. I started off with intimacy as a keyword in Harvey’s work and I’d suggest that you read ‘Safeway,’ a poem that could make shopping worth it. In case you haven’t guessed I like this collection. There is more to it than I’ve mentioned. See for yourself.

BLUER THAN THIS is available in bookshops in both the UK and US. It is distributed in the UK by Signature Book Representation Ltd, (2 Little Peter St, Knott Mill, Manchester, tel 0161 834 8767/fax 0161 834 8656) and in the USA by Du Four Editions (PO Box 7, Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, 19425 – 0007, tel (00 1) 610 458 5005, fax (001) 610 458 7103).


John Harvey with Second Nature, Derby Jazz Festival 2007. Photo: Garry Corbett

John Harvey was born in London in 1938 and, after living in Nottingham for a good number of years, has now returned to north London to live. After studying at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London, and at Hatfield Polytechnic, he took his Masters Degree in American Studies at the University of Nottingham, where he taught Film and Literature as a part-time lecturer between 1980 and 1986.

After teaching English and Drama in secondary schools for twelve years, stopping in 1975, Harvey has lived primarily by his writing. For years he was a regular tutor on residential writing courses run by the Arvon Foundation, and in 1995 he was on the teaching faculty of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Fiction Workshop in Northern California. He has recently decided to do no further teaching, either in workshop or formal situations, but does continue to enjoy giving readings and talking about his work.

Initially a writer of paperbackfiction – both for adults and teenagers – John Harvey has over 90 published books to his credit. Now principally known as a writer of crime fiction, principally the Charlie Resnick novels, he continues to work on scripts for television and radio, where he has specialised in adapting the work of himself and others – his radio dramatisation of Graham Greene’s “The End of the Affair” gained the Silver award in the radio drama section of the 1999 Sony Radio Awards, he has also adapted novels or short stories by Arnold Bennett, A.S. Byatt, Richard Ford, Bobbie Ann Mason and Jayne Anne Phillips.

As a poet, his work has appeared in a large number of magazines and pamphlets, and “Ghosts of a Chance”, a selected poems, was published by Smith Doorstop Press (Huddersfield, England) in 1992. In 1995, he made a recording of the same title, reading his poems with the accompaniment of the Second Nature jazz group, one of two bands with which he performs whenever he gets the chance. A new collection, “Bluer Than This”, was published by Smith Doorstop in Autumn 1998 and reprinted in Autumn1999.

He ran Slow Dancer Press from 1977 to 1999, editing Slow Dancer magazine until 1993, and continuing since then to publish the work of both new poets and established writers such as Lee Harwood, Libby Houston and Barry MacSweeney. He was the first to publish a collection of Sharon Olds’ work in England,and, in 1998, follow edthis up by publishing Lucille Clifton for the first time in Britain in1998. From 1998, Slow Dancer Press published fiction as well as poetry, concentrating on crime fiction, short stories and writing concerned with jazz and blues.

He has two grown-up children, twins, Tom & Leanne Harvey, born to a marriage which ended in divorce in the mid-seventies; in 1998, 10th August to be precise, a third child, Molly Ernestine Boiling, was born in London, where he and Molly’s mother, Sarah, were then living. After living in Cornwall for a year from the summer of 2003, John, Sarah & Molly moved to Nottingham in 2004.

dave etter | two jazz poems

29 02 2008


The Lighthouse jazz club, Hermosa Beach. Photo: (c) William Claxton

Poetry Dispatch No. 211 | February 28, 2008

Two Jazz Poems by Dave Etter

JAZZ JUNKIE by Dave Etter

How come when I
come to your house
what you got on
is always some Louis Armstrong?
There are other trumpet players
out there, you know.
Where’s your Dizzy,
where’s Clifford Brown?

I’ve met some of the big cats
like Dolphy, Gil Evans,
Dexter, Bird, “Lockjaw” Davis.
Shelly Manne asked me one time
at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach
did I have a light?
I gave him two matchbooks.
He said, “Hey, I’ve seen you here
the last three, four nights.”
And we shook hands, talked about
Chet and Chico Hamilton
and what Max Roach was up to.
When I got back to Chicago
I put his face on my wall
alongside Bud Powell
and “Fat Girl” Navarro.

Look here, brother,
I most never go
anyplace anymore,
don’t even make the club scene,
I’d rather stay in my room
and dig Pharoah Sanders,
Illinois Jacquet,
and Elvin Jones.



Didn’t like the party
didn’t like the people there
tossed down my whiskey
put on my corduroy coat
passed some tacky tycoons
country club bumpkins
double chins double gins
yanked open the thick front door
lit a fresh Cuban cigar
went down white stone steps
went down crooked walk
went spinning round and round
goodbye to Wall Street weirdos
bigoted Republicans
bad hearts sick with greed
glad to be out of there
turning and whirling
dancing dancing like Monk.

crp003_t.jpgfrom I WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOU, Cross+Roads Press, 1995, 35 pp. $6.


some selected Lighthouse recordings…