Sean Singer’s obsession with jazz has not subsided. On the contrary, his new poems continue to push and bend the jazz lexicon, racing toward the lives and voices that sit at its center. With sonic agility, these poems stride and comp and croon and whimper in service, not just of music, but of the aches and the dilemmas that make music necessary. In the two poems included here, he channels legendary musicians Charlie Parker and Hank Mobley.—Tracy K. Smith
“This one’s my Cadillac. This one’s my house.”
Charlie Parker said, pointing to his vein, as he tapped
it and some hazel kids played in the sprung yellow hydrant.
He’s a target, has Melvillian fuzz, and puffy fingers,
tiny bear-like eyes—dark whorls, with burnt olive pit.
It’s heroin. Hero, like the heroisch of its German origin,
he impresses others by sleeping late, dozing, and stealing.
He never leapt tall buildings, but he did gorge
the bucket chicken while a blonde and a redhead
untied the apparatus and introduced a line
of synthetic superior valve oils: large piston clearance,
low brass and rust-inhibition. Foamy black tar
in a clarinet case. Inhibition. Heroin. Rain.
Roil. Roast. Brain. Noir. Beat. Crump. Vamp. Doom.
I began dissipating as early as 1932, when I was only twelve.
Treatise on Hank Mobley
Mobley talked about revolution.
Asterisk, palladium, forever unjaded.
He talked about two lives—the one we learn with
and the one we live after that.
Mobley slowly moped,
as if he was impersonating himself
in order to annihilate it.
Mobley referred explicitly to everyday life,
“I put my heavy form on them, then I can
do everything I want to do.”
Think of Leeuwenhoek,
smaller and upside-down
through his own lens,
to capture the place as a sound,
yet in making that sound,
tightened the grasp on the material
that supported his question.
Mobley talked about what is subversive about love.
When the door to a room closes,
the light, orange as a feather, under.
Mobley was positive about the refusal of constraints.
Strung out, his rung in the ladder broke, as
anyone who can swing can get a message across—
People who talk about revolutions
and not these things
have corpses in their mouths.
Sean Singer’s first book Discography won the 2001 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, selected by W.S. Merwin, and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. He is also the recipient of an artists’ grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and a 2005 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.