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Distinguished poet discusses John Coltrane and jazz in America in Brilliant Corners

Distinguished poet discusses John Coltrane and jazz in America in Brilliant Corners

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Michael Harper’s celebration of jazz and John Coltrane through poetry characterizes his deep understanding and appreciation for jazz, as well as the countless ways jazz can inspire all artists alike. In an interview included in the most recent issue of Brilliant Corners, Harper discusses the role of jazz in America, the individuality of the artist, and the discomfort associated with addressing certain aspects of American history and culture.

Sascha Feinstein, Ph.D., professor of English at Lycoming College, conducted the interview at the University of Rochester in 1985 for his honors thesis. Although it was his first formal interview, Feinstein guided insightful discussions regarding Harper’s experimentation with music during his readings, his poetry about John Coltrane, and his personal experiences with criticism. “His commanding statements,” Feinstein explains, “[elucidate] the responsibilities that Americans owe to their own culture. This is something that cannot be undervalued.”

Harper was a professor of English at Brown University, where he started teaching in 1970, as well as the first poet laureate of the state of Rhode Island. In his lifetime, he published 16 books, including “Dear John, Dear Coltrane;” “Use Trouble;” and “Songlines in Michaeltree: New and Collected Poems.” His abundance of honors and awards include the Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Society of America, the Robert Hayden Poetry Award, and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters Award.

In addition to Harper, the most recent issue of Brilliant Corners features numerous distinguished writers including Betsy Sholl, a former poet laureate of Maine; Laton Carter, recipient of the 2005 Stafford-Hall Book Award; and Mick Carlon, a young-adult novelist. As America’s sole indigenous contribution to musical culture, jazz is essential to the American identity, but often Americans fall short of recognizing its importance. Brilliant Corners functions as a piece of educational literature that sparks awareness of the role of jazz in America, and its enlightening nature inspires remarkable writers to submit work.

Brilliant Corners is a biannual journal that highlights an exceptional collection of poetry, fiction, and essays pertaining to jazz. Sascha Feinstein, the managing editor, founded the journal in 1996. Published at Lycoming College, Brilliant Corners is funded in part by Lycoming College, the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts and private endowments. A subscription costs $12 per year ($18 for international orders), and checks or money can be sent to Brilliant Corners, Lycoming College, 700 College Place, Williamsport, PA 17701. More information can be found at or on Brilliant Corners’ Facebook page.

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