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Category: Poetry

POEM: Lillian Dupree & The Ballad of Frenchman Street

UPDATE: This poem was published in the Winter-Spring 2010 issue of Blue Collar Review. You can get your copy at

Photograph by Richard Oliver

Lillian Dupree & The Ballad of Frenchman Street

It always starts with the rain and wind kicking up.
Clouds circle like vultures far out over the ocean,
higher than the sailors could see them,
if they were looking.

In a bar near Charity Hospital,
the TV shows the slowly spiraling storm,
but the sound is off and no one pays much mind
as the weatherman says “this is the one.”

In old westerns, the Indian lies prostrate,
ear to the ground, listening for the approaching hoof beats
of a warring tribe. If Donald Harrison, Jr., were to put
his ear to the ground, he would hear the low rumble of the future.

A factory in Texas made the guitar
that will be strummed when the horn should be sounded.
The strings are tight across the bridge,
like the cars and the buses and those on foot will be later.

Back on Frenchman Street, Lillian Dupree gets up from the bar
and starts for home, noticing that the breeze is strong.
She’s still in her scrubs after a long night taking readings,
listening for pulses and watching the moving lines.

This is the old part of the city.
The part the French built when it seemed like they’d be here forever.
As time and the storm proved, no one
is guaranteed this plot of land at the edge of the gulf.

First the French, then the Spanish, then the French again;
they all tried to conquer what could not be tamed;
tried to civilize the wild Caribbean soul of a city that was
never really part of this country, and yet is at the heart of it.

Perhaps it is that very separation, that very wildness,
that will make it easy for many to look away
as the bowl fills with unholy water like a rusty pot
left to decay in the tall grasses out behind the house.

Lillian Dupree is tired.
Tired of walking these same streets every night.
She wishes she could drive, or that she could afford to live
far enough away to commute.

She was born at this very hospital, born to a mother
who was born to a mother
who was born to a mother
who was born a slave.

Did you know that the last ever shipment of African slaves
from the continent came to this very city?
By that time, all the Africans you could ever want
were being mass produced in Virginia.


BOOK REVIEW: Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball

Donald Hall, one of the country’s great poets, writes with passion about Dock Ellis, one of baseball’s most colorful figures. If all you know about Dock Ellis is that he once pitched a no-hitter on LSD, then you need to read this book and learn the other 90% of his story. And if you, like me, have never heard of Dock Ellis at all, Hall’s engrossing account will acquaint you with a man who deserves wider recognition, as much for his constant support of the black community and his commitment to fighting drug addiction as for his on-field stats. Highly recommended.

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POEM: Bongocero

(for Arturo O’Farrill)

the meaty slap of flesh on flesh
the pop of skin on skin
fingertips, the side of the thumb
legs a vice to hold the shells

the heart of the matter is a mix
of rhythm and freedom
of accompaniment and improvisation
of ancient order and modernity

then from the back of the stage
the trumpets kick in
and the bongocero drops his drums,
which fall to the stage with a thud

now it’s skin grasping wood striking metal
as the bell cuts through
the urgent stabs of the horns
and gives a lift to the dancers



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New episodes of The Jazz Session: Fly and Barbara Dennerlein


Jason Crane interviews the members of the trio Fly: bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Jeff Ballard and saxophonist Mark Turner. Fly is very much a collective effort — the group operates with a leaderless philosophy in which everyone contributes equally. As a result, the trio has come up with some fresh and exciting sounds as they try new combinations and new ways to balance their respective instruments. All three musicians are very much in demand as sidemen, too. A full transcript of this interview is available at



Jason Crane interviews organist Barbara Dennerlein about her pipe organ recording Spiritual Movement No. 2 (Bebab Records, 2008). The album was recorded at one of Germany’s most famous churches in front of a very appreciative audience. In this interview, recorded before a concert in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Dennerlein discusses jazz on the pipe organ; why organists should use their feet; and how she adapts to the challenge of seldom having her own instrument on stage.


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Some verse commentary from my friend Otto

Here are two lovely poems from my good friend Otto Bruno, host of The Sunday Music Festa on Jazz90.1 in Rochester, NY.

There was an old man name of Crane
for poetry he was a pain
he thought it was worthy
I’d rather have scurvy
than listen to poets inane.

And the other, in haiku form…

Jason was Irish
a blight on his ancestry
he did not drink pints

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