Tuesday, November 3, 2015
10 years reading Leadbelly, Pt. 1: Amiri Baraka and Tyehimba Jess
Over at the intersection between poetry and music, you'll find the works of Amiri Baraka and Tyehimba Jess. Baraka didn't start off as a skilled performer. Jess wasn't always known for his dexterity on the page. But shifts happen.
Somewhere along the way, Baraka transformed himself into one of our most outstanding poet-performers. Jess maintained his skills presenting poetry live, but in time, he began producing a distinguishing body of works that you'd have to see, not just hear, to fully appreciate.
For Baraka, Malcolm, Trane, and Monk were crucial artistic inspirations. It's still too early to account for all of Jess's muses. But we know that Leadbelly was a major force in Jess's work so far.
Despite many different routes and approaches, Baraka and Jess both absorbed the music. And the related histories. Baraka was fond of saying that the history was in the music. Either way,Jess and Baraka found ways to transmit the music and histories into verse.
I now realize that part of what drew me to Leadbelly was how Jess's book corresponded to and departed from Baraka's works. That's some of what I've been reflecting on as I considered what it's meant to read Tyehimba Jess's Leadbelly (2005) over the last 10 years.
• 10 years reading Leadbelly, Pt. 2: The poetry volume as gateway
• A crown of blog entries for Leadbelly: project overview
• 10 years reading Leadbelly, Pt. 7: discoveries with students