Billy Collins is one of America’s most esteemed and endearing poets. He was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003 and now is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College in New York, Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute in Florida and a teacher in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton. He also is a dear friend. [Photo above of Billy Collins by Bill Hayes]
Billy’s poetry is soulful, playful and insightful, and always makes me smile inside. He loves jazz. His 11th book of poetry, The Rain in Portugal, is available in hardback. I recommend it highly. Billy’s poetry is fast to grasp and observational, and he was generous to let me use a poem on Rahsaan Roland Kirk from his book in today’s post.
“In 1964, I saw Rahsaan Roland Kirk in New York at the Five Spot. He sat down between sets in the club, which was very small, so a few fans went over to him. He took my hand (not so much a shake) and muttered something like ‘beautiful’ when I told him I loved the set. I’m sure he could tell I was young, just out of college. I wrote the poem I sent you about three or four years ago.”
Here’s the poem Billy sent along…
The Five Spot 1964
There’s always a lesson to be learned
whether in a hotel bar
or over tea in a teahouse,
no matter which way it goes,
for you or against,
what you want to hear or what you don’t.
Seeing Roland Kirk, for example,
with two then three saxophones
in his mouth at once
and a kazoo, no less,
hanging from his neck at the ready.
Even in my youth I saw this
not as a lesson in keeping busy
with one thing or another,
but as a joyous impossible lesson
in how to do it all at once,
pleasing and displeasing yourself
with harmony here and discord there.
But what else did I know
as the waitress lit the candle
on my round table in the dark?
What did I know about anything?
And here’s Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the one-man sax section, in Italy with Teti Montoliu on piano, Tommy Potter on bass; and Kenny Clarke on drums in 1964…