I have not personally witnessed the blues players in a bar in Harlem circa 1958. I won’t have this direct experience.
That is why I’m grateful to the late poet, writer and social activist, Langston Hughes, who documents some of this in his jazz poetry.
His words, as I let them wash over me, take me to another time, place, era and give me a vicarious experience. How fortunate we are to have a youtube clip of Hughes reciting his poem, The Weary Blues, to musical accompaniment.
Listening to and watching Langston Hughes recite his poem more than once, I am transported!
I recall the one time that I read a poem to musical accompaniment–an upright double bass player and a drummer. We didn’t rehearse together ahead of time. Along with other poets, I was invited to read a poem or two on a little stage in a long hall. Reading publicly was relatively new to me. Feeling both excitement and fear, I tentatively walked to the elevated stage and stood beside the bass player. The grounding tones of the bass, the heartbeat of the drum and my words created a melange of sounds. Once finished, flushed with the energies of the moment, I leapt from the stage, heart pounding and listened as other brave poets read their words to music.
There is something about reading your poetry to music. Have you tried it? Do you have a friend who plays a musical instrument? Do you play an instrument yourself? Dear poet, if you can, do find a way to give yourself this experience. Musical accompaniment creates a whole other dimension to poetic expression. Afterall, poetry is rhythmic.
Langston Hughes’ poem captured a segment of society and a particular era. What is something distinct to your life that you’d like to write about? to preserve for posterity? to offer as a glimpse into your experience for a future generation? Through prose, poetry…or another art form. Write it, then recite it to someone…perhaps with music.
NOTE: If you are interested in listening to a lecture by Langston Hughes talking about his life and hear him reading some of his poetry, you can google this recording. I found it to be fascinating.
Langston Hughes Speaking at UCLA, 2/16/1967