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Read My Book: Jeff Park on The Cellophane Sky

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Filed under: Read My Book

The Cellophane Sky is a book written out of love for both jazz and poetry. I worked on the book for years, sometimes spending as long as a month on an individual poem, trying to get into the essence of the music and the lives of the musicians involved. The book focuses on jazz, but in many ways it is an exploration of creativity and what it means to be human.

I grew up on the Westside of Saskatoon – not exactly a jazz hotbed of the world – in an area that now would be called the inner city, at least by Canadian prairie standards. Music was never prominent in my family; my parents listened to country and western, and I only learned about jazz and blues through weekly trips to the public library, flipping through stacks of obscure vinyl records with mysterious covers. It was like discovering buried treasure, exotic and exciting. The music was a quest – even the names were mysterious:  Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Howling Wolf, Miles Davis. For me, jazz has always been the music of infinite possibilities.

Part of my fascination is the fluid structure of the music itself, which is nearly impossible to define completely. I love the sound, the rhythm, and especially the concept of improvisation, which can say much about how to live a life — one takes what is given, and then makes magic and wonder out of it. Whitney Baillett, the jazz critic for The New Yorker, described jazz as the ‘sound of surprise.’  I would add that it is also the sound of mystery. Even the origins of the word ‘jazz’ are now lost in the labyrinths of the past. There are several colourful etymologies of ‘jazz’, but none that are definitive. Like the music itself, the word is mysterious. Poetry became a way to gain some understanding for me.

The poems in the collection, The Cellophane Sky, focus on the narratives of individual jazz musicians, and celebrate them in all their idiosyncratic wonder. I have attempted to give voice to their lives, and their music, while resisting the temptation to imitate or replicate the sound of jazz. And yet, jazz music is always central, existing both in the foreground and background of each poem — the sound of surprise.

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