Friday, 28 May 2010

The Daniel Jazz

I was reading John Hayes' blog, Robert Frost's Banjo the other day. A remark he made about the relationship between poetry and music sparked off a train of thought and I found myself thinking, for the first time in years, of The Daniel Jazz. Does everybody do this poem at school? We did.

Vachel Lindsay came from Springfield, Illinois. Like Bart Simpson, you might well be thinking. (A bit of a digression: I once had a long chat with an American radio amateur, Jon, NB0X, about this. He was from Springfield, Missouri. He said that there were many Springfields in the US, and every Springfieldonian could cite an episode of the Simpsons to proved that their Springfield was the Springfield. Jon was forever having long chats with European amateurs and made many friends over the air. I remember him telling me how he was into all things English and how another UK ham had sent him some tea from Harrogate (not far from here). He claimed he couldn't find any Rich Tea biscuits in the US and had baked his own to eat with his tea. He said he'd searched the internet for the recipe). Was he joking? I explained to him that Rich Tea biscuits were what the English ate with their tea as a last resort. Jon was a great character. However, he and I were very unalike, hardly likely to give each other the time of day, were we not radio amateurs. When he died -aged 46- I learnt from his obituary that he had been awarded the Medal of Merit by George Bush for his services to the Republican Presidential Task Force. One of the great things about amateur radio is that discussion of politics on air is taboo).

Anyway, back to Vachel Lindsay. Could he have laid claim to being the first rapper? Like most people who come across him at school I was surprised to discover he was white: he was, though ideosyncratic, in many ways champion of the cause of African Americans, although some of what he wrote (The Congo, for example) certainly raises eyebrows today (Lindsay himself, apparently, came to be uncomfortable with it). Lindsay said of his own poetry:

Mr. Yeats [WB - a fan] asked me recently in Chicago, 'What are we going to do to
restore the primitive singing of poetry?' I find what Mr. Yeats means
by 'the primitive singing of poetry' in Professor Edward Bliss Reed's
new volume on 'The English Lyric'. He says in his chapter on the
definition of the lyric: 'With the Greeks "song" was an all-embracing
term. It included the crooning of the nurse to the child... the
half-sung chant of the mower or sailor... the formal ode sung by the poet.
In all Greek lyrics, even in the choral odes, music was the handmaid of
verse.... The poet himself composed the accompaniment. Euripides was
censured because Iophon had assisted him in the musical setting of some
of his dramas.' Here is pictured a type of Greek work which survives in
American vaudeville, where every line may be two-thirds spoken and
one-third sung, the entire rendering, musical and elocutionary, depending
upon the improvising power and sure instinct of the performer.

I respectfully submit these poems as experiments in which I endeavor to
carry this vaudeville form back towards the old Greek precedent of the
half-chanted lyric. In this case the one-third of music must be added
by the instinct of the reader. He must be Iophon. And he can easily be
Iophon if he brings to bear upon the piece what might be called the
Higher Vaudeville imagination....

Big general contrasts between the main sections should be the rule of
the first attempts at improvising. It is the hope of the writer that
after two or three readings each line will suggest its own separate
touch of melody to the reader who has become accustomed to the cadences.
Let him read what he likes read, and sing what he likes sung.

And so, to the poetry itself:


Let the leader train the audience to roar like lions, and
to join in the refrain " Go chain the lions down"
before he begins to lead them in this jazz.

Darius the Mede was a king and a wonder.
His eye was proud, and his voice was thunder.
He kept bad lions in a monstrous den.
He fed up the lions on Christian men.

Daniel was the chief hired man of the land.
He stirred up the jazz in the palace band,
He whitewashed the cellar. He shovelled in the coal.
And Daniel kept a-praying : "Lord save my soul."
Daniel kept a-praying "Lord save my soul."
Daniel kept a-praying "Lord save my soul."

Daniel was the butler, swagger and swell.
He ran up stairs, He answered the bell.
And he would let in whoever came a-calling:
Saints so holy, scamps so appalling.
"Old man Ahab leaves his card.
Elisha and the bears are a-waiting in the yard.
Here comes Pharaoh and his snakes a-calling.
Here comes Cain and his wife a-calling.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for tea.
Here comes Jonah and the whale,
And the Sea!
Here comes St. Peter and his fishing pole.
Here comes Judas and his silver a-calling.
Here comes old Beelzebub a-calling."
And Daniel kept a-praying : "Lord save my soul'
Daniel kept a-praying : "Lord save my soul."
Daniel kept a-praying : "Lord save my soul."

His sweetheart and his mother were Christian and meek.
They washed and ironed for Darius every week.
One Thursday he met them at the door:
Paid them as usual, but acted sore.

He said : -"Your Daniel is a dead little pigeon.
He's a good hard worker, but he talks religion."
And he showed them Daniel in the lion's cage.
Daniel standing quietly, the lions in a rage.

His good old mother cried:
"Lord save him."
And Daniel's tender sweetheart cried:
"Lord save him."

And she was a golden lily in the dew.
And she was as sweet as an apple on the tree
And she was as fine as a melon in the corn-field,
Gliding and lovely as a ship on the sea,
Gliding and lovely as a ship on the sea.

And she prayed to the Lord :
"Send Gabriel. Send Gabriel."

King Darius said to the lions :
"Bite Daniel. Bite Daniel.
Bite him. Bite him. Bite him !"

Thus roared the lions :
"We want Daniel, Daniel, Daniel,
We want Daniel, Daniel, Daniel.

And Daniel did not frown,
Daniel did not cry.
He kept on looking at the sky.
And the Lord said to Gabriel:
"Go chain the lions down,
Go chain the lions down.
Go chain the lions down.
Go chain the lions down."

And Gabriel chained the lions,
And Gabriel chained the lions,
And Gabriel chained the lions,
And Daniel got out of the den,
And Daniel got out of the den,
And Daniel got out of the den.
And Darius said : "You're a Christian child,"
Darius said : "you're a Christian child,"
Darius said : "You're a Christian child,"
And gave him his job again,
And gave him his job again,
And gave him his job again.

You can read more of Vachel Lindsay's poems at Project Gutenburg. The Santa Fe Trail has some wonderful passages in it, for a start (it starts at the foot of page 9). For example:

My goal is the mystery the beggars win.
I am caught in the web the night-winds spin.
The edge of the wheat-ridge speaks to me.
I talk with the leaves of the mulberry tree.
And now I hear, as I sit all alone
In the dusk, by another big Santa Fe stone,
The souls of the tall corn gathering round
And the gay little souls of the grass in the ground.
Listen to the tale the cotton-wood tells.
Listen to the wind-mills, singing o'er the wells.
Listen to the whistling flutes without price
Of myriad prophets out of paradise.

You can read more about Vachel Lindsay here.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Spontaneous Combustion

This week the Poetry Bus is being driven by The Chocolate Chip Waffle. The prompt was a fantastic photo of a woman - well, of a half-firework, half-woman...

Spontaneous combustion used to be taken slightly seriously but these days, as I understand it, it's pretty discredited. It used to be thought that perhaps, only perhaps, if you had enough alcohol in your system and lit a fag you might discover that you'd become flammable. However, in claimed cases there has usually been a less flamboyant explanation available to unwishful thinkers. These days it's rarely talked about, although there is a wikipedia page devoted to it.

Spontaneous Combustion

spontaneously combust
if you want, if you must:
there are few ways to go
so robust
(and so rarely discussed)

from stardust to stardust
no time to adjust
one minute you're there
then you're bust:
blown away by a gust

Saturday, 8 May 2010

One for the Poetry Bus

Driven this week by The Scaldervillage Voice. This week's trip took me to a church in New Zealand. It's a short one:

Empty Church

do the cars
driving past
in the street
make a sound
that echoes round
the white walls
even if
there's no-one there
to hear it?


I was looking through Philip Larkin's Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse this morning and came across this poem by DH Lawrence. I've never really liked Lawrence's poetry: for a start, I associate it with school, in a bad way. I seem to remember desperately trying to keep my eyes open on warm afternoons, trying to take in animal poems out of a scruffy, ink-stained book. I find his zest for life slightly disturbing, too, for reasons I can't really put my finger on. But this morning this poem made a deep impression on me, probably because we're looking after an injured cat. OK, so the cat is domesticated, not wild, but I think I now not only know but have directly experienced exactly what Lawrence is getting at. In the past I'd have not paid this much attention. Perhaps I should've:

Self Pity
by DH Lawrence

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Rock and Roll

There's been a lot going on here for the last few days so I'm afraid I haven't had time to get to grips with this week's Poetry Bus project (hosted this week by the indefatigable watercats, where you will find links to many more Poetry Bus contributions). It had to be something to do with one or more of the following: sex and drugs and rock and roll. All I could manage was this very short film of a haiku. There's a rock and - a roll. A granary roll no less, from a famous supermarket. I didn't even have time to butter it for you.

Rock 'n' Roll Haiku

A roll on a rock:
stop and eat or break it and
throw it to the birds.