Al Young title

Archive for April, 2012

AVA GARDNER and DIZZY GILLESPIE: Poems for Two Celebrated Carolinians

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012


©  Life

Actress Ava Gardner in a Hollywood nightclub, 1948, wearing beret, horn-rimmed spectacles, and simulating a goatee, to signify her admiration for Dizzy Gillespie, Bebop King.


An MGM property, as she later stated,
“None of us was ever very well educated.”
For one hundred bucks a week each,
the studio knew it could afford to reach
deep into future space for its heroines, its stars.
You can talk about your Hedy Lamarrs,
your Lanas, your Grables, your Ritas, your Janes,
but none of those well-screened women sustains
your interest the crazy way into Ava Garner
did and still does. Ava was your partner–
no satiny matinee idolatress, either.
She called the hot and heavy breather
in new. Sexual, intellectual, aristocratic,
she truly you woofully into the ecstatic,
where feeling and thought, like energy and mass,
squared up, imploded; imagination, class,
were everything; knowledge of way-station.
She filled in the blanks for you. Your education
old as much to The Snows of Kilimanjaro
as it did to the steamy straight-and-narrow that
contessas didn’t walk barefoot. With Artie Shaw
Ava learned how great books worked. She saw
how what you hear and see and say and feel
gross deep when you and you alone get real.
Ideas? You had to bounce them, see which way
they fell into your world. Ava moved to Spain
and then to London, where the supple pain
of being a star, a ghost impression, slowed.
What was it about Ava that pulled and glowed,
that yanks and warms the eye and heart today
in a century she never reached to shrug away?

© Al Young

© Life

Teen-age girls, taken with Dizzy and his music in 1948, wait to have his autograph.


Depression, blues, flamenco, wine, despair––
sunk in, they make you cross your heart and die
for hope. Dark times come at you; they don’t care.
“So deal with this,” they say. And so you buy
the pain and stress, the restlessness––the works:
low back pain, aches and limps, the twitch
of fear your face betrays.

ooooooooooooooooooooooJohn “Dizzy” Birks
Gillespie’s cheeks popped out (fat love an itch
scratched by the trumpet at his goateed lip),
they said: “Take chances, stretch, jump at the sun.
You just can’t spend your whole life acting hip.
Be corny sometimes. Have yourself some fun.
You can’t be cool forever, so relax.”

Diz knew puffed cheeks were anything but chic,
but when you closed your eyes you heard him axe
infinitives, split atoms, hairs. You speak
that tongue––curves, flatlands, all of it. You do.

You understand the hoodoo stab of hurt;
the blues, their messy messages, a few
trashed hopes, some lame goodbyes, her skirt,
your coat, the folded jeans, wet tights. Black night
is falling all around you in the rain.
Dark times, dark times can fix you in the light
of reason, recognition, lasers, pain.

© Al Young

— from Something About the Blues: An Unlikely Collection of Poetry (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2007)



Monday, April 2nd, 2012

“April in Paris” — Sarah Vaughan (singer), Clifford Brown (trumpet), Herbie Mann (flute), Paul Quinichette (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Jones (piano), Joe Benjamin (bass), Roy Haynes (drums), 1954



paris_logo41508.jpg click on the eiffel tower

JJWebb/Cruzio Blues Café

To animate the avatar of Al Young reading and singing with the Dartanyan Brown Trio, click here.
Dartanyan Brown, bass | Jorge Molina, piano | Sly Randolph, drums



after Yip Harburg & Vernon Duke

It was here in that one-time, one-step, lighted blue
of Paris at ease, close to the Cluny, in splendid,
straight-up noontime shadow that your slow and
measuring eyes met more than their burning match.

The smooth warmth of your whisper along my neck,
the nappy back of it, where you’d peeled back
its soft, excited collar to tell me everything you’d learned
or discerned in a city where love and prices flirt.

A product of standstill winters, sudden summers, sultry
prejudice, and heartland steak-and-whiskey afternoons,
you’d blown in from the States, an orphan of the arts —
Mary Cassatt
, Josephine Baker, Mary Lou Williams,

Jean Seberg. What breathlessness overtakes me here?
Brushing and combing out memories of your touch,
in a season as uncertain as coastal fog moving inland
from the loveless edges of that country we’d both fled,

I shiver. Whom could we run to if not one another?
Back home we knew what it was like to be the other —
displaced, despised, imprisonable. We watched and fought.
The colors of loss deepened. Yearning to break free,

unconsciously American, we counted our chickens, certain
that the ships we’d always banked on would sail in.
In Paris, our adopted country of each other’s arms,
whose borders blurred all time, all common market sense,

we saved the slow but steady squeeze of night, of time,
the way it smothered darkness, the way it mothered light.
The April of your frightened French was like that, too;
you had no words for holiday tables, for chestnuts in bloom.

Parisian light, like light at home — Detroit, Des Moines —
lit up your waifish eyes. I said, “Think twice before you speak.”
Over here you mostly knew the blues; rue rhymed with blue.
There couldn’t be too much light, too much touch.

Al Young
© 2001, 2006, 2008 by Al Young

Meet the Poet-Animator

Animation and design
© 2008 by J.J. Webb a.k.a. Beau Blue