Transposing the tradition
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Brackish is a collection of poems preceded by the critical introduction, “Transposing the Tradition: Jazz, Lyric Poetry, and the Individual Talent.” Brackish explores the writer’s experiences coming of age on the coast of Northwest Florida, using brackish water as its central metaphor. Neither fresh nor salty, brackish water is a mixture of both. It retains elements of salt water and fresh water and finds identity in the fact that it is neither. The lyric voice in Brackish moves in this way: it is neither a child’s voice nor an adult’s voice, but a voice that stands between those two poles, retaining a child’s sense of discovery and mystery and an adult’s awareness of the larger world. In this way, the poems explore the tenuous gap between innocence and experience. “Transposing the Tradition: Jazz, Lyric Poetry, and the Individual Talent” develops the theory of lyric transposition, a way of understanding jazz-influenced poetry. Like jazz standards, poems often cover familiar territory; and like a jazz musician, a poet develops an individual voice in the context of familiar material. What separates a poem from others on similar subjects or themes is the poet’s voice. Lyric transposition describes the movement from subject matter to the poet’s register, the way that musical transposition describes the movement from a song’s original key to another key, more appropriate for a particular musician. This theoretical perspective frames a discussion and reading of three jazz-influenced works of poetry: Michael S. Harper’s Dear John, Dear Coltrane, Tyehimba Jess’s Leadbelly, and T.R. Hummer’s The Infinity Sessions.