I have one of those "Poetry Speaks" page-a-day calendars (given to me by the lovely Sarah Jane) on the kitchen (card)table. Although the selections are hit-or-miss, it's good to peer at this little square block of printed words while I blearily pull on my Docs every morning before heading out the door.
In preparation for Langston Hughes' birthday today, yesterday's bit was a few words on Hughes by Al Young:
While recordings of poets reading their work were not widely available, my classmates and I understood that poems did not live on the page; they only camped there.... We knew poems lived in the body.... First-rate composers--Anton Dvorak, Bela Bartok, Cole Porter, Mary Lou Williams, Duke Ellington, and Thelonius Monk come to mind--build their music from everything they hear going on around them, from the formalized to the vernacular and the colloquial ... the poetry of Langston Hughes, alive with clues to the origins of the blues, continues to quiver....
This reminded me of Ralph Ellison's vibrant comparison of T.S. Eliot to Louis Armstrong in "Hidden Name and Complex Fate: A Writer's Experience in the United States" (from Shadow and Act), which recounts his foray into literature while studying music:
Wuthering Heights had caused me an agony of unexpressible emotion and the same was true of Jude the Obscure, but The Waste Land seized my mind. I was intrigued by its power to move me while eluding my understanding. Somehow its rhythms were often closer to those of jazz than were those of the Negro poets, and even though I could not understand then, its range of allusion was as mixed and as varied as that of Louis Armstrong. Yet there were its discontinuities, its changes of pace and its hidden system of organization which escaped me.
There was nothing to do but look up the references in the footnotes to the poem, and thus began my conscious education in literature.
Critics and theorists can wrangle over meaning all they want. Give me that unspeakable sense of ineffable thought resting beneath printed verse that leads God knows where.
("O O O O...")