A tribute to Al Young—originally meant for Black History Month. Al Young fell ill and was unable to appear at a reading he had agreed to do. He asked Jack Foley to substitute for him and to read some of his work. Jack decided to make the reading a tribute to Al Young. You’ll hear what Jack came up with on today’s show.
Mississippi-born, Detroit-raised Al Young is a novelist and a screenplay writer as well as a poet. He has also published some beautiful essays—“musical memoirs.” He was born May 31st—same date as Walt Whitman. Among his poetry books are: Dancing; The Song Turning Back into Itself; Geography of the Near Past; The Blues Don’t Change: New and Selected Poems; The Sound of Dreams Remembered: Poems 1990-2000; Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons: Poems 2001-2006; Something About the Blues: An Unlikely Collection of Poetry. On May 15, 2005 he was named Poet Laureate of California by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In appointing Young as Poet Laureate, the Governor praised him: “He is an educator and a man with a passion for the Arts. His remarkable talent and sense of mission to bring poetry into the lives of Californians is an inspiration.”
Al enjoys riffing on old popular songs—“standards.” This poem plays upon the great Vernon Duke / Ira Gershwin standard, “I Can’t Get Started With You.” Note the playfulness and the way the song shows up in the poem, directing it in a way. It’s like jazz: the song isn’t what gets played, but it is the basis for the poet’s solo.
I CAN’T GET STARTED
Isn’t this the way it always ends up?
The deepest of nights, the ripest of moons,
the fragrance of magnolia and gardenia—
dueling sorceresses. And you are all I want.
The August air wafts the whole world
to where you, in your bikini and gown, rest
beside me in tropical summer whites.
Without making eye contact, we can feel
the voltage. The same alternating current
that makes our thoughts tremble and wobble
in their synaptic tracks stops us cold.
Speechless just will not describe what I seem
to be becoming, nor does breathless cut much ice.
Spellbound? Spellbound does come close.
This has got to be the night, I thought.
Sweet Barbados it is not. There is no more
revolution in Spain for me to settle
(although I have fixed elections in Florida).
OK, beauty, there is no denying this
must be some kind of powerful feeling
we’re playing with here all by ourselves.
Circling the globe and charting the North Pole,
hobnobbing with presidents and bitch
superstars, starring in pictures and specials
myself, going one on one with Tiger Woods
and each of the Williams Sisters—kid stuff.
In my bourgeois house, by my brand new pool,
my late-life Ph.D thesis about to be a book,
my savvy stock portfolio healthy and trim
like this new body to which you get
my initial public offering, and Oprah
just left me some choice voicemail.
Tell me, sweet thing, please—how come
I find myself blessed with everything
this system provides, and still I can’t get you?