Poetry by Russell MacClaren

April 28th, 2013


by Jazzamoart



From the skies
a distant murmur
comes from The Son
of this Creation.

Waters rush
across cosmic rocks
that spin through space
and gather wisdom-
that plays to us
in hearts and drums.

Words from the Father-
soft murmurs, echo
through my being.

Vapors cascade
over falls…
I hear their calls,
and they become
my poem of the day!


A traveler questioned
the novice monk:
“Why should I pay heed
to one so young?”
The cleric answered:
“Because I know your need
and understand.”
“Then tell me,”
asked the traveler,
“What must I do
in this strange
and distant land?”
The monk bowed low.
“Go to the garden,
that grows by the grotto.”

Nearing the enchanted garden,
the wanderer sensed gentle arms
reaching out to hold him tight,
eyes and lips that longed
to watch and kiss him
through the night,
a gracious heart and soul–
resolved to be with him
through all her days.

A koto’s tranquil tune
spoke to him alone–
of passion and warmth,
of comfort and of home.
He traced the song
to a pagoda in the back,
and found a maiden
kneeling there
with threadbare haversack.

Her flawless skin
and sable hair
so intoxicated him,
he ran to her.
“Tell me of this song,” he pled.
“What does it mean?
I heard it once before,
in some sweet dream.”

“It’s for my intended,”
she answered, with a smile.
“It speaks of arms–
that yearn to hold him tight,
of eyes–
resolved to watch,
content to kiss him
through the night,
of heart and soul
prepared to join him
in his flight.

“For you–have traveled far
to find me here.
And I–have waited long
for you to come, my dear.”






Bbooooooo bboooooo,
Two octaves below a deep bass voice
river boat horns quake on the water.
Night scrambles the groan
with croaks of frogs, barks of herons,
gator cries and splashing fish.
Mississippi waters flow
down bends and turns
past gulls and pelicans
that feed upon her life.

Wooooooh woo whooo
Whining its warning
to those at distant crossings,
the midnight train steams on
fearless, yet heedful of
approaching people
and their conveyances.

One almost smells formaldehyde
near Preservation Hall,
treasured classics
saved for generations
and improvisations
for those who listen to–
‘The New,’
filtered through
a one room museum,
alive with memories
of times before.

Bar doors
spill hot air
and staggering people
into morning’s early haze.
Six a.m. church bells
greet cold winter air
and its disdainful drunks.

Parading down Rampart Street,
Olympia Brass Band belts out
“Just a closer walk with Thee.”
Umbrellas rise and fall
to second line swag
in sync with blasts of horns
and pounding drums.

Even in the city,
the wild invades us;
past mingles with present;
storms press us–
waiting to reclaim lost delta,
but the people and the culture
cling to heritage–
and persist!




Lead singer
clears his raspy throat.
Gravel paves the gullet
of his finished song.
Slide trombone locks shut–
spit draining from the valve
into a plastic cup.
Notes from Mom’s piano
linger in the smoke.

The sweaty customer
of big cigars, exhales,
bellies to the bar.
“Another round!
For everybody in the place!”
Chairs squeak under tables
scraping hardwood floors.
Toilets flush.
Smells of puke and urine
mingle with perfume and beer.

Eyes and teeth
flash against the dark…
Then comes
the thung, thung, thung
of bass’ strings.
A muted horn bwaa waas;
a banjo pings.
The jazz band takes its seat
upon the altar.
Silence holds its breath
for their next hymn.


After late night conversations
poets walked haunted corridors
winding to their rooms.
Lost in somber in silence,
we slipped into sleep.

In the cool of dark
I woke to baying dogs.
Their howls echoed
from stone canines
that stood watch
beside the gate.

Urania’s stars shone bright,
and the moon spilled its delight
in a beat that lingered, on and on.
It took me time to realize
I wasn’t in a dream.

Shadows swayed and danced
to the sound of a distant drum.
Bum badda bum badda bum
budda bum!

The appeal from
Euterpe’s percussionist
echoed through the night.
Her syncopated rhythm
compelled my Utterance–

Share this:

5 comments on “Poetry by Russell MacClaren”

    1. Not from my point of view. The scene that’s painted is only honest, though it is but a single representation of the whole. For the most part, it is more than worth the pain one sees some people putting themselves through in order to hear the amazing goodness of a world of sounds and sights, we, here in New Orleans, know as jazz.

      1. I’ve had those same glimpses of squalor that too often accompany jazz wherever it is played but the details you painted in your honest picture are those I’d rather forget. It’s what many jazz musicians strive to escape by creating beauty. I’m kind of glad my memories are more vivid of their ascendancies than of their pain. I suppose you can’t listen to hymns without also hearing the pain, but you can try. But you know that.

  1. I enjoyed your poems. However, being a writer myself who strives for economy, I feel compelled to ask why, at the end of the third stanza of “Crescent City Lullaby,” you wrote, “alive with memories of times before,” and not just “alive with memories.” If it’s remembered, it’s understood it’s from the past/”times before.” Thank you.

    1. Good point, and you are very right. The poem, as you see it is really my first draft. I’m sure you know how it feels when your poem is first born. I’ve since revised the work.

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records co-founder, is interviewed about his successful career as a jazz producer, discographer, and entrepreneur...Also in this issue, in celebration of Blue Note’s 80th year, we asked prominent writers and musicians the following question: “What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums; a new collection of jazz poetry; “On the Turntable,” is a new playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings from six artists – Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano, Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian and Aaron Burnett; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Jazz History Quiz”; a new feature called “Pressed for All Time,”; a new photo-narrative by Charles Ingham; and…lots more.

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 18 recently released jazz recordings by six artists -- Joshua Redman, Joe Lovano. Matt Brewer, Tom Harrell, Zela Margossian, and Aaron Burnett


In this month’s collection, with great jazz artists at the core of their work, 16 poets remember, revere, ponder, laugh, dream, and listen

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob presents two stories, one on Clifford Brown (featuring the trumpeter Charlie Porter) and the other is part two of his program on stride piano, including a conversation with Mike Lipskin

Short Fiction

Short Fiction Contest-winning story #51 — “Crossing the Ribbon,” by Linnea Kellar

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

Pressed for All Time

In an excerpt from his book Pressed for All Time, Michael Jarrett interviews producer Creed Taylor about how he came to use tape overdubs during the 1957 Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross Sing a Song of Basie recording session


“Thinking about the Truesdells” — a photo-narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #128

Although he was famous for modernizing the sound of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra -- “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was his biggest hit while working for Dorsey (pictured) -- this arranger will forever be best-known for his work with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.


Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.


Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, discusses her late husband’s complex, fascinating life.

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

"The Photography Issue" will feature an interview with jazz photographer Carol Friedman (her photo of Wynton Marsalis is pictured), as well as with Michael Cuscuna on unreleased photos by Blue Note's Francis Wolff.

In the previous issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance. Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive