Since 1996


Poetry Review

By Joan Gelfand



“Talking With The Radio”
by Zack Rogow
Kattywompus Press, Somerville, MA, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-936715-83-1

Music and poetry have been lovers ever since the first Renaissance troubadour sang

his poetic love song accompanied by a lute. Music lives in poetry’s bones and poetry

informs the rhythmic motion of song.

In recent decades poets have collaborated with jazz musicians, reading poems in

syncopated verse caressed by the deep timbre of a stand up bass, the beat of a

bongo or drum set, the languor of a saxophone or the lyric beauty of a flute.

Jack Kerouac, Langston Hughes, Bob Kaufman, Ruth Weiss, Joni Mitchell, Anne

Waldman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and many others brought Jazz to poetry readings

to great success.

“Early jazz poetry did not mimic the sounds and improvisational spirit of jazz.

Instead, it heavily referenced the musical form with allusions made to musicians,

instruments, and locations key to the burgeoning jazz scene.”* In “Talking With The

Radio,” poet Zack Rogow continues the tradition.

Rogow, the author, editor and translator of twenty books and plays, is well equipped

for the task. In the first section of the book, “Voices Carved from Obsidian,” Rogow

assigns words to indescribably moving sounds. Reaching further, he explores the

roots of those voices, as he informs us that, for so many artists, harsh circumstances

were transformed into a gift of life-changing experiences for listeners. About Sarah

Vaughn, he writes:

“One voice was a siren

in a liquid dress

so much a woman

that you wanted to caress away

every lash life ever left her.”

From “Sass”

The stanza’s lines follow various beats (6, 5, 5, 9, 8) setting the poem to inhabit

Jazz’s syncopation and Vaughn’s phrasing while employing finely honed poetic tools:

internal rhyme, alliteration and metaphor.

Rogow burns to bring these Jazz greats back – if only for a moment – to reignite the

fire in their souls to save us from our New Millennium selves. In his three-page “Ode

to Billie Holiday,” Rogow apologizes for disturbing Holiday’s resting soul, while

making a case for adding her to his firmament of ancestors:

“I call out the names of

my ancestors real and imagined

the Baal Shem Tov

Mickey Mantle

Frank O’Hara

My grandma Tillie.”

Holiday is embedded in the poet’s soul and his personal history. He composes his

own love song as he describes the effect her voice has had:

“That voice that sounded like

a baby wailing and a mother soothing

all at the same time.”

For this poet, music, listened to and experienced deeply, can heal, can shine a light,

and can even change the world.

“Billie we need you now

to sing the earth to its senses

to make the bankers shake a storm of gift cards off the tops of skyscrapers

to heal the stripped and fracked thighs of the land

to sprinkle soul in all the boardrooms and bedrooms

do it now Billie



In the next section, “Lame Jackets and the Dishwasher’s Serenade,” Rogow ventures

out to set the record straight on the politics and the plights of so many musicians at

the hands of cold-hearted record companies, greedy producers and misanthropic

colleagues. He sets the record straight on Herman Santiago, author of “Why Do Fools

Fall in Love,” a #1 hit from which Santiago derived exactly nothing; to Jay and the

Americans (really, David and the Americans,) and how Curtis Mayfield was

permanently injured when… “a shove of wind toppled/a tower of lights onto his



In the third section Rogow bares his own soul, joining his life to the pleasured and

pained lives of his beloved musicians. In the raw series “Do the Ghazal” Rogow

educates the reader on the ancient form of lament and the rhyme schema. “The

ghazal consists of a group of self-contained couplets, often on unrelated or loosely

linked themes, which the writer Agha Shahid Ali described as being like a series of

two-line haikus.”

In these formalized poems the poet records the chaos of his inner life, musing on

long term relationships, his sex drive, his process of sorting out his past and how he

disciplines himself to not become stuck.

“Lord, I’ve been thirsty all day long

But I know I’m gonna take a good long sip tonight”

From “Ghazal of the Quarter Moon”

“The blues is just a skin too small for our flesh

But lately there are days I’m past the brink of it.”

“Lounge Ghazal”

“I know you can’t trade, bury, burn

Drown, strangle, or steal the pain.”

“Ghazal of the Wounds”


“Don’t get trapped in your past, Zack,

Not for a second, don’t you even think of it.”

“Lounge Ghazal”


In the final section, “My Land of 1,000 Dances,” Rogow dialogues with a few of his

heroes. Bob Dylan, Fats Domino, Patti Smith. In the final “Jam Session: The Bill Evans

Trio,” Rogow catches not only the contrapuntal timing but the sensuality of the


“Then the bassist starts to slip his fingertips

all up and down

the instrument’s neck and belly

his touch light

but insistent

wincing with pleasure

at each note”

“The drummer rubs his brushes

splayed open

on the skins”

“The piano is driving so far

from the melody

hands probing

for every variation

till the tune melts away”

The words of “Talking With The Radio” mirror a deep and thoughtful exploration of

both listening to and being the music, of both being effected by and affecting his

reader with his mournful words, his grappling with meaning and his passion for

music with his excellent tuning fork – his writer’s pen.

* From “The Harlem Renaissance,” Wikipedia, 2015

Joan Gelfand’s recent collection, “The Long Blue Room,” was published by Benicia

Literary Arts in 2014. Her poetry and jazz CD, “Transported,” may be found on

itunes.com Joan is the Poetry Editor for the “J,” and Development Chair for the

Women’s National Book Association.