The great poet Jayne Cortez made her transition on December 28, 2012.
Though her creative spirit lives on, she will be terribly missed on this side. Her dynamic voice and musical delivery were a hallmark of the Black Arts Movement, which she helped conceive and define. And she extended that era’s premises and promises with her formally challenging, multi-media poetics. Her prophetic imagination found full expression in the the language of surrealism and the blue hues of jazz.
Cortez’s artistic self-determination and uncompromising soul meant that she never waited for publishers or labels to catch up to her. She self-published most of her poetry and recordings under the Bola imprint. Her collaborations with the painter, sculptor, and print-maker Melvin Edwards lends those books a dramatic sense of counterpoint.
The visual and sonic dimensions of her work highlight the syncopated timing of her poetic gestures. Her tribute to John Coltrane, published in her first book of poems, is among her best known work. Her performance of the poem with bassist Richard Davis testifies to her facility with performative nuances.
Her poem, “A Blues,” comes from her 1971 book Festivals and Funerals.
Give me some star beer & a bottle of gin
cause forty heads have rolled &
I’m celebrating the end
Blues drying in my eyes like salt
I’m talkin to the shaven head beauties
wrapped in orange & black
black & orange funeral wrapped sisters lookin
just like bessie
those bessie smith lookin women in
the ashanti tribe
Let me speak with the ancestor of this clan
Empress baby sister
no we didn’t try to understand you so
chances are we’ll never understand them
trouble trouble trouble everywhere
I’m on my way
going to a festival
a festival where the umbrella gods will
shade my tongue with an oath so powerful
I could become the link to paradise
but who would mock my breath
who would steal my soul who
would tell the people what
the blues is really without my being dead
Hot pepper on my flesh
Give me some star beer & a bottle of gin cause
More heads are gonna roll & I
wanna celebrate the end