“The Life of Jackie McLean” a poem by Michael Harper

August 8th, 2006

 

 
________________________

 

 

The Life of Jackie Mclean


by Michael Harper

 

A critic ‘trying to pass’ writes me about crossover    played some
couldn’t make it    got his Ph. D
(he’s onto new changes     an advance man     now active     in grants
from corporations)

would I come to Hartford and read to us the poems of heartwork all about
Americana

?
(I speak to Fret about duets—he’d like to come too—worried with nothing
written down)

quibbling about money  on  expenses   more fooled  about crossover   through
the culture
(Fret     still preoccupied with ‘tenure’   changes horns   refusing to write
anything down)

I remember being in town on a circuit   downpayment for a house in play
for another child coming
(I meet the doctor who breathed all night for one of my son’s     ‘lost him’
in SF)

$100/reading to make half a house downpayment   with no gas allowance
organized out of Wesleyan
(but teaching every single class to the upper crust   who ‘vamp on spec’
jobs already pocketed)

conventions of “educators” in the audience     books to sign     the world at
bay  illegible
(in comes Jackie   but only to the atrium they call ‘vestibule’     listening
for cracks   amidst cadences)

I’ve already covered all bases of the tradition   “Bird especially” born
on grandma’s nativity
(Fret is mad because he’s   light   jewish   bookish   his folks about to
split     into halves   in the stacks)

finally an actress asks about ‘horse’     when she herself   stung ripe on
Bach Brahms Beethoven   Buddhism
(Fret clamps up   both axes as   Pres   cuts ‘King of Swing’     on borrowed
time   in Chicago in ’38   recorded)

King of Swing’s rep never dies     Jackie leaves home     to teach build
joises   cultural projects get clean     ‘stay up’

(the audience   now kids   in tutelage   and bad   all races   Dolly keeps
accounts     “In Walks Bud”)

 

Michael S. Harper, 2005

copyright reserved
 

_____
 

 

John Forasté © Brown University


About Michael Harper

Michael Harper is one of America’s most celebrated poets, having received honors and appointments from artistic organizations and academic institutions across the country, ranging from National Book Award to a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is much sought after for poetic readings, guest lectureships, and visiting professorships, and served as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1988 to 1993, and as Kapstein Professor of English at Brown University.

His poetry is highly influenced by the music he loves: jazz and blues sound through the lines and often appear as inspiration, metaphor or rhythm in individual poems. His poetry is filled with references to his past; history, experience, and family are strong inspirations which reverberate throughout his work. His ancestry, to which he refers frequently, is filled with fascinating and inspirational individuals. Paraphrasing Ralph Ellison, Harper once said: “Relatives are people that you are born into, and have no choice about them. Ancestors are people you choose.” His ancestors live on and their voices can still be heard in the lines of his verse.

From Brown University Library

 

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