cover image Teducation


Ted Joans. Coffee House Press, $15.95 (228pp) ISBN 978-1-56689-091-5

Energetic African-American Beat poet, surrealist painter, longtime Paris-based expatriate, African traveler, jazz expert and jazz musician, the versatile 71-year old Joans (Black Pow Wow Jazz Poems) has published 35 books, but never, till now, a Selected. Joans's rakish, unsatisfiable sensibility can make his work in Beat modes as technically innovative as Burroughs, as polemically exuberant as Ginsberg and as comic as Corso. His early work, like theirs, depends heavily on surrealist modes: ""The rhinos roam in the bedroom/ where the lovely virgin wait/ the owl eats a Baptist bat/ and God almighty is too late."" The masterful longer poem ""Timbuktu Tit Tat Toe"" packs a few hundred years of Black America's relationship to Africa into four pages of giddy declamation. Like Amiri Baraka (who lauds Joans' verse), Joans came to embrace an aesthetic of people's poetry, creating exuberant forms to meet his needs, stirring the pot with neologism and slogan, and calling on an arsenal of heroes from Malcolm X to Jean-Michel Basquiat. ""And Then There Were None"" locates political rage in Louis Armstrong's famous grin: ""you tried to turn him into your `musical golliwog doll'/ you wanted his trumpet to blow what you said so/ you misinterpreted his wide smile."" Repudiating chronology, Joans splits his work into two alphabetically ordered sections: ""Hand Grenade (Graded Poems to Explode on the Enemy and Unhip)"" includes straightforwardly public and hortatory work; ""Fertileyes & Fertilears"" gathers more personal or whimsical poems. In an exciting era of performance poetry, renewed interest in all things Beat and committed probings of ethnicity, many new fans are certain to agree with Joans when he writes, ""My poems are immune to the uncouth/ These poems are only the truth."" (Oct.)