I remain in Google Keep compiling notes and ideas for the poem until I feel like the poem is ready to go and only needs organizing/form-ation. I apologize for not having the initial Google Keep Notes that gave rise to the poem, but in a way we do have them, because the next step in my process is to transfer those notes from Google Keep to Microsoft OneNote. It is at this point on my laptop with the larger screen real estate and a macrocosmic view of my notes and ideas that I either impose a form on the poem, or the lines tell me what form they want to be in.
This poem is an example of the latter. It is modeled after Fred Moten’s “I lay with francis in the margin” from his collection The Little Edges. I already had a lot of poems in restrictive (but it is good restriction, I often like/need to be restricted) forms, so I figured, and the ideas the lines I had formulated also figured that free verse should be the form of the poem. And yet Jazz is dependent on form (another reason why so many poems in the collection are informed by form), so I felt some element of restriction was being called for.
Moten’s ideas and style are all over, throughout, running top to bottom and side-to-side in this collection so I always had his books at arm’s length and felt ‘I lay with francis…’ struck a similar tone to the one my ideas were striking in the nascent sentiments of this poem. Once I was set on the form, it was only a matter of organizing the lines in accordance with the form.
My bed back then was pretty cool. It was a 10 in. thick queen futon mattress atop a wooden pallet frame and headboard a friend and I cobbled together. My bedroom in my tiny, one-bedroom apartment is small with one medium-sized window. The queen size bed took up about 75% of the room (a big reason I got rid of the frame, for more floor space). The only items in the room back then (and still) would have been a stainless-steel finish floor lamp from Target, a space heater, a portable clothes closet with a zippered front (needed in addition to the built in closet because I had yet to minimize my clothes), and a wicker clothes hamper in the corner behind the door.
Again, it goes without saying I was almost always in my bed if I was at my apartment. I was reading Yona Harvey’s (https://www.yonaharvey.com/) Hemming the Water for a class presentation, and Mary Lou Williamson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Lou_Williams) is one of the central figures in Harvey’s book.
It was my intention at the outset of under the aegis to give voice to women in the book. The book centers around the life of virtuoso Jazz composer and pianist Bud Powell (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bud_Powell), and I wouldn’t call him a feminist by any stretch of the imagination, but by all accounts, women liked to be around him. He was bashful and not the kind of guy to be always in pursuit of women. He did not have the reputation of a womanizer or ‘player” like a lot of other Jazz musicians of his era.
In the biographies I read, women said they liked to be around Powell because he was sensitive, a good listener (in fact Powell didn’t talk much at all) and didn’t objectify them. I took creative license and tried to inject in the book a feminist sensibility, as much as my own very imperfect feminism could inject.
Theirs is a story of the Second Great Migration that seldom gets told, namely those individual car loads or two (the wife would drive a carload and the husband would follow behind with another carload) that braved the dangerous highways travelling the segregated South transporting Black migrates to a hope for a better life up North. This was a treacherous journey. Cars were not as safe as they are now, accidents were more prevalent and deadly especially for an African American in the South. The police or highway patrol might come to the accident scene and leave you to die. The black transporters had to be armed to protect themselves from passengers whose plans were to rob them, and from white people they might encounter when stopped by the road or in a town to get supplies. I have very fond memories of the times I spent with that couple listening to their stories and gaining so much from their wisdom and generosity.
Williams spent a lot of time on the road travelling from gig to gig across America. So, she was familiar with the perils of traveling while black in the early 20th century. And she loved riding trains and the NYC subway (eighth avenue express was her train), one of her biographers said she got a lot of her musical ideas from modern travel as well wrote many compositions while she was taking modern travel. I don’t know my heart and mind made that connection between the freedom black people seek and how connected it is to having to escape to places where white supremacy is less virulent, as well as how that freedom is expressed in our music as our musician not just speak to political freedom, but also to artistic and formal freedom in invention.
“Looking For Sunsets (In the Early Morning)”
by Cindy Hochman
“The Way Back”
“VAN GOGH TO HIS MISTRESS”
by Margo Taft Stever
“How To Befriend Uncertainty”
“Shostakovich: Five Pieces”
“Bouquet for Amy Clampitt”
#192 Backstory of the Poem
by Matthew Gavin Frank
July 31, 2020
#203 Backstory of the Poem