Monday, May 16, 2005


Bonfire is a quarterly literary journal based in the U.K. Its tag line is "an international conflagration," and they feature poets from the U.K. and around the world. If you go to their site, you can use PayPal to purchase a sample copy on .pdf. It's the most efficient, coolest way I've seen to get a sample copy of a print journal.

DB Cox, a "blues poet" and musician originally from South Carolina, is one of the featured poets in their current issue. I was particuarly taken by this poem of his:


take me
to a place
where midnight

don’t want
to see the sun
anymore—put me
on a train

with no windows
where nighttime
lasts forever
& a speed-mad

engineer with
a mechanical heart
high balls
a coal-black engine

time tunnels
like a bullet
leaving a gun

where the speed
of darkness
is faster than
the speed of light

of a nocturnal scene
mingus & monk

behind a tan-skinned
lady, white orchid
in her hair
singing “keeps on a rainin”

just give me things
i can depend on
red wine, old times
the repetition of a song

DB Cox

If you know that Cox is a lover of the blues, and you know the basics of the blues musical structure, then the title already gives us a hint of the nature of the speaker's yearning. Repetition is at the heart of the blues: "Oh, my dog died this morning, and my woman ran away. Oh, my dog died this morning, and my woman ran away. The sky is so cloudy, looks like it's nothing but rain today." (Don't make fun of me, I'm just making this up now to make a point). :-) Cox's poetry has a strong, blues-like rhythm and vernacular, although it doesn't hold strictly to the form. (Check out Sterling Plumpp's poetry for some beautiful, strict blues poetry.)

The poem brings to mind a late night in a blues club, "a nocturnal scene / mingus and monk softly / behind a tan-skinned / lady, white orchid / in her hair / singing 'keeps on a rainin'." Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk are two famous blues musicians, and Bessie Smith (1894-1937), the singer of "Keeps on a'Rainin'," is one of the most well-known American blues singers.

The speaker wants things he "can depend on," and for him that means coming back to the music that has sustained him through his life and work: the blues. I get the feeling that this could be a picture of heaven for the speaker--all the most wonderful blues musician gathered in one nocturnal spot, with him right in the middle of it all.

(By the way, I found three conflicting dates of birth for Bessie Smith, but they all agree she passed away in 1937.)

Picture of Bessie Smith found at NPR

1 comment:

Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) said...

Very interesting post. I'm a fan of jazz and some blues. I throughly enjoy reading your discussion of the poems you choose to post. This is a new poet to me. Thank you