whose arched occasional stepped youth swallows
curvingly the keeness of my hips;
or,your first twitch of crisp boy flesh dips
my height in a firm fragile stinging weather,
(breathless with sharp necessary lips)kid
female cracksman of the nifty,ruffian-rogue,
laughing body with wise breasts half-grown,
lisping flesh quick to thread the fattish drone
of I Want a Doll,
wispish-agile feet with slid
steps parting the tousle of saxophonic brogue.
(E.E. Cummings, “god pity me whom(god distinctly has),” Tulips and Chimneys, 1923.)
One of his “jazz poems,” “god pity me(whom god distinctly has)” is included in a lot of anthologies. As an example, Cummings’ poem was printed in Sascha Feinstein and Yusef Komunyakaa’s The Second Set: The Jazz Poetry Anthology Volume 2 (Indiana: University Press, 1996).
The concept of jazz as a language not only evokes analogies between musical and linguistic structures but also the idea that instruments can, in fact, speak to us. … In jazz clubs you hear people call out, “Talk to me!” or say, “This music speaks to me.” In addition to the pulse of jazz, they hear cadences and inflections that correspond to words, sentences, whole stories.
If jazz strives to attain the syntactic logic of … “a developmental language” of its own, then poetry, without question, strives that much harder to achieve the emotional complexity and rhythmic drive of music. In conjunction with The Jazz Poetry Anthology (1991), this book presents a selection of jazz poems that, we hope, will offer “ongoing implications for thought.” …
We have chosen poems by Hart Crane, e.e. cummings [sic], DuBose Heyward, Vachel Lindsay, and Muriel Rukeyser because of their literary prescence in the poetry circles of the time.
Many of the poets in both anthologies have written extensively about jazz, so much that jazz seems to have influenced their work as much as literary sources. Sometimes poems have been written as series, which might be seen as being parallel to jazz musicians who improvise several choruses.
I hope to have time to come back to that similarly-themed-pieces-as-jazz-variations, you know, kind of a bebop, exploratory improv concept as it plays out in a jazz form of literature: I found some other Cummings prostitution poems that deal in parallels and complements to the “kitty” one from earlier this month, and I think that fits with the idea of a series of riffs on the same idea. I will try to get to that. Promise.
All photographs by Ellen von Unwerth.
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