Mingus at the Showplace

by William Matthews

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat

literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th St., and I sat at the bar,

casting beer money from a thin reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.

And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but they were wrong, as it happened.

So I made him look at the poem.
"There's a lot of that going around," he said,

and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He laughed
amiably. He didn't look as if he thought

bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
if they were baseball executives they'd plot

to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children. Of course later

that night he fired his pianist in mid-number
and flurried him from the stand.

"We've suffered a diminuendo in personnel,"
he explained, and the band played on.

please note: photo by Jim Marshall


  1. Love this poem - I really like the unexpected pop at the end. Leaves me wanting more.

  2. "Digested experience and shat literature". A good visceral connection.

  3. I love that line too! I do find it strange how misery seems to breed poetry, or maybe, poetry breeds misery. maybe misery is a bit too harsh, melancholy at least.. Really enjoyed reading this !-)cheers

  4. I don't know William Matthews, perhaps I ought to get to know him.
    Great lines indeed, one can fellow-feel each and every one of them. And yes, Mingus was a genius.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog.If WWII is of interest to you, I have a whole lot of personal reminiscences of the time just before and just after the end of it.

  5. I love the way you always send me running for a dictionary. I think my vocabulary has grown exponentially since I've been visiting you.

  6. Love Mingus. I have an album of Joni Mitchell doing Mingus that is one of my favorites.


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