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October 8, 2007

Speaking of Coltrane: Five Conversations (5)

Speaking of Coltrane: Five Conversations (5)

Michael S. Harper, emeritus professor at Brown University and first poet laureate of Rhode Island, wrote the most famous of the many Coltrane poems, “Dear John, Dear Coltrane,” a year before Coltrane’s death. It begins:

michael harper

Michael S. Harper

a love supreme, a love supreme

a love supreme, a love supreme

Sex fingers toes

in the marketplace

near your father’s church

in Hamlet, North Carolina—

witness to this love

in this calm fallow

of these minds,

there is no substitute for pain:

genitals gone or going,

seed burned out,

you tuck the roots in the earth,

turn back, and move

by river through the swamps,

singing: a love supreme, a love supreme;

what does it all mean?

Loss, so great each black

woman expects your failure

in mute change, the seed gone.

You plod up into the electric city—

your song now crystal and

the blues. You pick up the horn

with some will and blow

into the freezing night:

a love supreme, a love supreme

Michael S. Harper, “Dear John, Dear Coltrane”, 1975

In our conversation — and in his own digressive, virtuosic, dare I say Coltranean style — Michael Harper weaves threads of racial brutality and family memory, black church music and profoundly engrained Christian doctrines of forgiveness in the North Carolina tapestry of Coltrane’s imagination. Harper’s connections with Coltrane are musical and also personal: he has been a friend for many years with Coltrane’s pianist, McCoy Tyner. But above all he is listening to Coltrane as spiritual teacher on tracks like “Alabama,” “Spiritual,” “Dear Lord,” and of course “A Love Supreme.”

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Michael Harper(27 MB MP3)

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