“Women Under the Influence” –a Book Review

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout

51MZke6LxZL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Wait. Why is a book of poetry being reviewed on the IROM site. After all, that “M” stands for “music” – – right? Well, writer Michael C. Ford is a most enthusiastic jazz fan staying up too late in many a jazz venue with a smile on his friendly face. Since you also like jazz, I feel very confident that you will like the poetry of this man who I have dubbed the “jazz poet.”

 

His poetry is both accessible and understandable. But why do I call him the “jazz poet?” Well, jazz and poetry are linked by their intrinsic nature of both being ever-changing, improvisational art forms of expression. Ford’s rhythms, his accents, his subject matter and his dramatic readings – weaving new melodic lines and sweeping through the “changes” with the assurance of a horn player – are drenched in jazz.
Many of us write “poetry” but Ford is not a dilettante. He is an accomplished and published poet with over twenty-eight volumes of written works. He received a Grammy nomination in 1986 for his spoken-word “Language Commando” and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his 1998 book titled “Emergency Exits.” Poetry, of course, should not be simply read. Like music it should be heard and dramatic reading is one of Ford’s many strengths. He has a resonant baritone voice and has appeared in spoken-word concerts across the nation, often working with jazz artists.

But, interestingly, it was the famous rock singer-composer, Jim Morrison (of the seminal band “The Doors”) who encouraged Ford to give his first public recital back in 1969 at a benefit performance designed to raise money for Norman Mailer’s run for the mayor of New York City.

Similarly to jazz, Ford’s poetry is unexpected, full of depth and full of surprise and there is nothing esoteric or difficult about his imagery.Happily, he does not focus on childhood, Christmas, the changing seasons, or his favorite puppy. What makes Ford’s imagery distinctive is that he examines the woebegone days of Hollywood and the vanishing jazz scene. The primary motif of his works is that he resurrects iconic figures ranging from actresses Dorothy McGuire, Ann Sothern and Gena Rowlands to legendary jazz artists such as Billie Holiday. His chosen subjects also include forgotten films, discarded music and the silence of a lonely Edward Hopper painting (“empty open rooms full of sunlight.”) and, of course, given the title, Ford’s meditations on women, some classic leading ladies and some not (e.g., an lovely eulogy to a grandmother).

But, well known or not, Ford’s women leave us entranced. Just to cite a few examples, he limned an intriguing tableau on Carroll Baker “a post-pubescent baby doll who gave us / cribs full of Coca-Cola bottles and lingerie.” Ford loves female jazz singers and, while praising Carmen McRae, he addresses a problem that she and all us jazz fans have to deal with, ”jive turkeys too drunk to half-way comprehend the difference between an augmented ninth and a flattened fifth.”

The noted poet Ezra Pound once said “poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music.” Well, since music embraces his every syllable, there is little chance of Michel C. Ford’s poetry atrophying and I highly recommend “the jazz poet” to you. His poems are clear-eyed and uncompromising and full of sparkling imagery just like an improvised jazz solo. This collection is a magnificent fusion of poetry and reflections on midnight jazz, femmes fatale and other women “under the influence.” Miles Davis’ 1959 melancholy Kind of Blue recording nicely complements this collection as a sort of soundtrack. Like Ford with his text Davis pared his music down, got rid of what he did not need, implying a vast reservoir of emotion and meaning just beneath the surface.

For information regarding the ordering of copies and other details, check the Word Palace Press site, http://wordpalacepress.com/, or Amazon

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