Best Things of the Week 4/20/15

Best Things of the Week  

by Byron Spooner 

April 20, 2015

images(7) Best Thing I Saw All Week: SFJazz Poetry Festival curated by   Ishmael Reed: On Thursday night’s Berkeley Poets, Robert Hass performed what a more religious man than I would call a small miracle at the top of the bill, delivering an ecstatic set of modern poetry that has to be one the best I’ve ever seen. (Reed thought so too, and said so at the end of evening.) Beginning with a startlingly honest dream poem, then a couple of elegies to departed family, where by poking around in grief’s back yard and jotting down the obduracy of memory, Hass created awe. He moved on to his nature poems, imbued with the sound of pines and scent of wind. In his intro Al Young rightly called him, “an American Master.” Young was all over it as well. Accompanied by virtuoso bassist Dan Robbins he stuck with his music poems, many from his 2008 collection “Something About the Blues.” Al swings like Sonny Greer under any circumstance but Thursday he seemed inspired by the building, the crowd, the accompaniment, and the constant sidewalk of passersby whose reactions ranged from indifference to fascination with only a plate glass window between them and wonder. He and Robbins pulled a couple of verses of “Sir Duke” out of their kit bag to close things out—boldly striding into the continuum of jazz poetry that runs from Langston Hughes to Kaufman, Joans, Meltzer and Baraka to Wonder and Young. At such a moment one wonders where poetry ends and jazz begins or if there is a line at all.

Best Thing I Saw All Week: SFJazz Poetry Festival curated by Ishmael Reed: Friday night was Oakland night with Tennessee Reed as reader/MC, April Sinclair, Theo Konrad Auer and Avotcja Jiltoilro. Between poems Auer pointed out that Ishmael had hung out with Miles Davis and Jackson Pollack in New York back in the day and marveled at sharing the stage with him. When we ran into April in the lobby she was nervous and claimed to be uncertain about what she was going to read. She uncrumpled a piece of paper from her purse and read us a short piece about growing up over a tavern in Chicago. When the time came she read the piece to applause but it turned out to be merely a warm-up for her triumphant ‘Straight Outta Marin”—published in 2011 in Black California: A Literary Anthology—which was simultaneously very funny, sharply observed, sad and outraged. So what if it wasn’t poetry? It was true to the spirit of the festival. Introducing herself as “storyteller, wild woman, and bona fide sound junkie,” Avotcha closed the evening with her blues/jazz-inspired free form poems, evoking the music of Oakland, name-checking seemingly every singer, drummer, horn man, guitarist, and pianist who’d ever come through town. The poems grew into incantations that threatened to summon the shades of those long gone musicians. I’d seen Avotcja several times before but never in such high form. Sunday is San Francisco Night. Stayed tuned.


Leave a Reply