Like the word ‘poetry’ and the capacious, ‘mysterious’ confines that tag along with it, so too does the word ‘jazz’ trigger a huge abstract space. And I have noticed that these two words occasionally flummox and alarm, if not downright scare people. ‘It’s all too hard and complex,’ they say, as if poetry and jazz are perceived as bizarre, unpredictable juggernauts they’d rather not touch in the way they’d not dare slink up to a dozing grizzly bear and poke it in the chops. Frustratingly, this effect immediately tunes out the gun shy from sounds or words filed in either office. If you write poetry – or play jazz – you know that this need not be the case (which is not to claim that there’s no peril or that there’s not plenty to avoid in each form depending on one’s taste). Publishing poetry nowadays takes love and guts, but publishing poetry about jazz, as Extempore does, requires a healthy dollop of moxie on top of that as well.
Extempore gots moxie. I’ll just put it like that. They have much in common, jazz and poetry do, and they intersect wonderfully in issue 5 of this journal.
Editor Miriam Zolin has once again produced a terrific collection of poetry, reviews, stories, musical composition and images about or in some way referencing jazz. In full disclosure, three poems of mine appear in this 5th issue. But I’m bored of those, drafting and writing them long ago. It is everything else in this issue (let alone the MO of the journal itself) that continues to pique me. All the other ‘finished products’ work. Terrific poems by Kevin Gillam, Helen Lambert, Nathan Shepherdson and Geoff Page, just to name a few, work. The journal’s well made and well laid out. It works in your hands.
Extempore appeals to me because I adore sound. And jazz (again, the portion of which I make time for: Django Reinhardt, anybody?) feels like raw sound versus the refined sounds I enjoy every bit as much; refined sounds like Kitty Wells’ lilt through a honky-tonk bawler or the angular math that pipes out of a Wire or Saints song. This raw versus refined bout registers in my head the same way a garden full of vegies seems raw, unrefined until such time as it becomes a wok concoction. Now, I know that most poems are fussed at, reworked, and worried at like a loose tooth at age eight. Poems are refined many times over. But poetry, finished poems, still have a rawness about them I can’t resist. So, when this rawness gets doubled up – as it is in Extempore – well, the result kicks a truly good bit of arse.
I adore the pure sound of words, stripped clean of any definition, every bit as much as I enjoy building poetic narratives with them. I am particularly drawn to pieces about a certain type of sound – jazz, say, or the call of birds. Or the squelch from a Geiger counter. Extempore is riddled with such sounds. Poetry is riddled with such sounds.
I have written many poems triggered by sound; this is to say, I was moved to write them after hearing X, Y or Z. One piece I’ve written was all because of the sounds coming off an old supermarket cash register and what they unlocked in my memory. Now, much of the written works are pieces about jazz, not writings as if to be jazz. But reading poems as jazz is a mode any reader can try out if they care to. Extempore is the perfect journal to have a go.
Tom Waits had something to both scrawl and bleat about the intersection of ‘Heartattack and Vine’. I’m going to end on a massively hokey note and encourage you – somebody, anybody – to see if your cigarettes still light or if that tabby cat ever shuts the hell up at the intersection of poetry and jazz.
Kent MacCarter, expatriate of Minnesota, Montana and New Mexico, is now a permanent resident in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and two cats. Answering the question, “Where are you from?” is always a difficult one for him.
In the Hungry Middle of Here is first collection of poetry, published by Transit Lounge Press. It’s a book that navigates the world, seeking the sounds, textures and tastes that characterise its parts. His work has appeared in many publications both here and outside of Ausralia. He currently sits on the executive board of SPUNC: The Small Press Network, an advocate association that supports small and micro presses. He is also an active member in Melbourne PEN with some exciting projects planned for 2011.