by Paul Guernsey Player, © 2018/07/27
A music without melody or beat
or harmony of any pleasant type,
the tortured squeal of trumpet valves pressed half-
way down, a double-bass that croaks like frogs
and drums that walk a disrelated path
to all the rest, is noise, though Jazz it calls
itself, and precious few Principians
that fill the auditorium tonight
would rank it near as high as Headache on
the scales of beauty, entertainment, art.
The five black men upon the stage have failed
to reach the audience of whites so eager
to appreciate, so hopeful to enjoy;
but one thing’s lacking on this night. The Art
Ensemble of Chicago plays for us
a nameless noise, as music in a tomb,
and though we strain to understand, we mostly
strain to not walk out mid-phrase and leave.
There is a thing as too much art and too
much innovation. Yes, the audience
does have a say on whether art is Art,
and just how far beyond the custom one
may go before the bond is broken clean.
Confusion on the faces of the crowd
turns soon to nervous intermission chat
with smiles forced as each tries to impress
upon the others just how much the show
we do enjoy. If only we could just
convince our selves. Instead the largest share
slip out the door and not back to their seats.
That evening past I now recall with dread
as sitting in our class of Milton Works
we listen to the words of students proud
reciting their own poetry instead
of words by Milton read by our own dear
Professor H, whose sonorous and rhythmic
voice had blessed our mornings past, before
the merging of our class with overflow
from Doctor O’s bestraggled, squeaky clean,
polite, but quite disgruntled student poets.
Insist they deign to read unto us all
the poems they had writ, for promised they
had been their readings, workshops; not to sit
and hear of dusty lines penned oh so long ago
by ancient man both dead and blind, no less.
At first, we others, Milton scholars now,
thought this a treat, a welcome respite from
our plight. What better way, we thought to ‘scape
the footnotes needed just to understand
the words that Milton used, and don’t forget
his penchant for the run-on sentence long.
But soon we realized just how dear a price
was paid, for listening to the dribble passed
as poem by our classmates new was pure
persuasion that the Master of Blank Verse,
and commentary fresh by Doctor H,
such blissful Paradise, was Lost when this
cold gruel of sodden self enraptured lines
o’er took our former solemn eloquence.
Slight blemish we would readily forgive,
and deeper imperfections, too, for we
are eager to enjoy our classmates’ words
as hopeful to appreciate we were
The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Jazz.
But this we simply can’t endure, the rape
and disregard of form, the lack of due
respect for us, the audience. We strain
to hear accustomed rhyme or please, at least
the scent of friendly meter, fresh cut rye
whose planted rows are only seen on close
inspection, helping us along the way,
to guide our willing listening steps,
to march us onward home to beauty spoken
through the music in our kindred souls.
But none of this we hear, just endless streams
of consciousness and disrelated thoughts,
a random mess of dandelion greens,
a bitter tangled dross of joyless gloom.
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