I had a great day at the record store last weekend and came home, wallet not too much lighter, with a short stack of music ranging from 1796 right up to 2016. Later, on Sunday, I found myself listening to three of the more recent albums in a row (1978, 2008, 2016), and all of a sudden realized, wait, all these artists are also known as poets! And not only that , poets who’ve been read on Monday’s Verse: Bob Dylan, the Silver Jews (band leader David Berman has published several books of poetry; see MV 5/4/2015), and Jamila Woods. You may remember that Ms. Woods’ "Ghazal for White Hen Pantry" was one of my favorite poems of 2015. It was published in Poetry Magazine in December of that year; I think I discovered it a few months later. At some point, in 2017, I heard the DJ on a local station say that the track I’d just caught the last 20 seconds of was from an album by Jamila Woods, and I thought, that Jamila Woods? Indeed.
So when I saw it on brand-new vinyl (blinding white vinyl, no less), I had to give it a listen. I’ve only heard it once, but so far so good. Her writing chops show, and there are some great references, both lyrically and musically, to 80’s pop music. More importantly, it drove me back to her Poetry Foundation page, where I recalled that she runs poetry workshops for youth in Chicago and works in that city’s nonprofit sector. And found today’s poem. I love poems about music anyway–we’ve read so many of them over the years, and 2 weeks ago we had another–so this one seemed perfect given the writer and my circular route, via turntable, back to her poems. I didn’t even look up who Herb Kent is, I think I’ll let one of our Chicago readers (not to be confused with the Chicago Reader) reply all and enlighten us. Have a great week, -ed.
ODE TO HERB KENT
Your voice crawls across the dashboard of Grandma’s Dodge Dynasty on the way home from Lilydale First Baptist. You sing a cocktail of static and bass. Sound like you dressed to the nines: cowboy hat, fur coat & alligator boots. Sound like you lotion every tooth. You a walking discography, South Side griot, keeper of crackle & dust in the grooves. You fell in love with a handmade box of wires at 16 and been behind the booth ever since. From wbezto V103, you be the Coolest Gent, King of the Dusties. Your voice wafts down from the ceiling at the Hair Lab. You supply the beat for Kym to tap her comb to. Her brown fingers paint my scalp with white grease to the tunes of Al & Barry & Luther. Your voice: an inside-out yawn, the sizzle of hot iron on fresh perm, the song inside the blackest seashell washed up on a sidewalk in Bronzeville. You soundtrack the church picnic, trunk party, Cynthia’s 50th birthday bash, the car ride to school, choir, Checkers. Your voice stretch across our eardrums like Daddy asleep on the couch. Sound like Grandma’s sweet potato pie, sound like the cigarettes she hide in her purse for rough days. You showed us what our mommas’ mommas must’ve moved to. When the West Side rioted the day MLK died, you were audio salve to the burning city, people. Your voice a soft sermon soothing the masses, speaking coolly to flames, spinning black records across the airwaves, spreading the gospel of soul in a time of fire. Joycetta says she bruised her thumbs snappin’ to Marvin’s “Got to Give It Up” and I believe her.