Reading about Jazz and Harlem has led me to pick up Langston Hughes again. I first read Hughes in my early 20s while I was living in Chicago. His poetry was a perfect fit my urban-student lifestyle: days of ideas and libraries, nights of bars and blues.
Over the years, I have periodically picked him up again. Each time appreciating him even more.
It is not that way with all poets you re-read. Some poets only belong to a certain time and place in your life. They were the perfect singer singing the perfect songs at one time in your life, but as the years pass they seem merely quaint.
Here is a poem about the power of music.
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:
And far into the night he crooned that tune.The stars went out and so did the moon.The singer stopped playing and went to bedWhile the Weary Blues echoed through his head.He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.
Reading about the Harlem Jazz scene, I have been surprised to learn that the Harlem Renaissance and the jazz clubs were not as inextricably mixed as I assumed them to be. More often than not, according to many sources I have read, Harlem intellectuals and jazz musicians paid little attention to one another. Hughes was obviously an exception to this.
Poetry and music are two sides of the same artistic coin. Both seek to express what is most inexpressible, and hence most human about us. Poetry uses words and the music that comes from language. Jazz uses the sound that pours from the human soul. Blues attempts to use both.