Skip to main content

Information is power. Our mission at Portside is to seek out and to provide information that empowers you -- that empowers the left. Every day we search hundreds of sources to connect you with the most interesting, striking and useful material. Just once a year we appeal to you to contribute to make it possible to continue this work. Please help.

 

poetry Flair

Louis Armstrong believed his birthday was July 4, 1900 (though a recent discovery suggests August 4, 1901 is correct). But Elaine Feinstein's portrait of that great trumpet player just starting out seems appropriate for this American holiday weekend.

printer friendly  
,

Flair

That whole wet summer, I listened to Louis Armstrong.
Imagined him arriving in New York after Funky Butt 
dance halls, wearing hick clothes: those
high-top shoes with hooks, and long
underwear down to his socks.

Thought of him shy in a slick, new band, locked
for two weeks reading the part he was set,
until the night when Bailey on clarinet
took over an old song. Then Louis’ horn
rose in harsh, elated notes,

phrases he’d invented on riverboats
and ratty blues tonks, using all the sinews
of his face and muscle of his tongue.
And what delights me now
is when he grinned to thank

the crowd that stood to clap, he saw
slyly from the corner of his eye
all the stingy players in the band
were sitting motionless, their tribute
only an astonished sigh. 

The English poet Elaine Feinstein has published 16  collections of poetry, 15 novels as well as radio plays, television dramas, and five biographies, including Anna of All the Russians, a life of Anna Akhmatova (2005). She has received many awards, including a Cholmondeley Award for Poetry, and  an Honorary D.Litt from the University of Leicester where she grew up. Her most recent book of her own  poems is Portraits (Carcanet, 2015).