The Poetics of Blues

Featuring interviews with Kiese Laymon, Tyehimba Jess, and Derrick Harriell, as well as new poems by Angela Narciso Torres and Eleanor Kedney. Plus, Blues poems, essays, and a story from the NOR archives.

Perpetual Reckoning: An Interview With Kiese Laymon

“For me the blues is the perpetual reckoning with what should be agony, but finding ways of making that reckoning pleasurable. The agony and the pleasure exist right up next to one another. The question is how do we most effectively hold ourselves together through the pain, through the suffering, and through the agony? My history in this country teaches me that you have to do it through art. That doesn’t mean the art that gets sold. But the art of talking. The art of listening. The art of making sounds. The art of rhythmically manipulating repetition, which I think was really at the core of the blues.” – Kiese Laymon

Interview conducted by Josh-Wade Ferguson

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Obsession, Desperation, and Curiosity: A Conversation on the Poetics of Blues with Tyehimba Jess and Derrick Harriell

“And that’s what you’re talking about when you’re talking about the essence of the blues and its relativity to what we’re doing today. Because we’re working in the tradition of the literature, right? That’s inseparable from that stream. That was the literature we had before we could read and write. And once we were allowed to read and write without the force of death being put upon us, all that imaging went right into the literature. And that’s the connection between African American literature and the blues. So there is no separation between the two.” – Tyehimba Jess

Interview Conducted by E.M. Tran

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From the Archive: Jazz and the Blues in Poetry


by Robert Pinsky

Originally published in New Ohio Review Issue #7

This is the golden trophy. The true addiction.
Steel springs, pearl facings, fibers and leathers, all
Mounted on the body tarnished from neck to bell.

The master, a Legend, a “righteous addict,” pauses
While walking past a bar, to listen, says: Listen—
Listen what that cat in there is doing. Some figure,

Some hook, breathy honk, sharp nine or weird
Rhythm this one hack journeyman hornman had going.
Listen, says the Dante of bop, to what he’s working.

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