In memory of Stanley Crouch

I just learned that my favorite contemporary American cultural critic, Stanley Crouch, passed away yesterday at the age of 74. This in the middle of reading his essays on Quentin Tarantino’s films, and looking forward to picking up his books on jazz next. He will be missed.

I wanted to share a poem here based on the ninth psalm that I wrote after discovering the incredible jazz artist and composer Winton Marsalis through one of Stan’s essays, but I didn’t expect to find myself sharing it today. I’ll introduce this (reposted, revised) poem with some excerpts from the first pages of an essay Crouch wrote for the liner notes and republished in The All-American Skin Game, an essay that helps the novice listener hear In this House, On this Morning with an educated ear.

“The liturgical pearls of our culture originated with the chattels who loved percussion and never failed to remember the eternal drumbeats of human affirmation. .. That liturgical drama of song and percussion, of eloquence and incantation, of the sun and the moon rising in absolute light and fullness from the bottom of the social valley, added an unsentimental spirituality to this culture, a fresh language for the dialogue between the all-too-human and the divining, enlivening spark of the invisible. .. We feel the warmth and the calm, the compassion and the integrity, the sense of tragedy as well as the will to transcendance that is the moral essence of courage. In all, we know the illumination that is the sweet embrace of life.”

I acclaim this House with gratitude and grace,
let me sing out this morning of its wonders.
Let me rejoice in your storied history,
let me raise hymns that descend into the blues,
when the rip tide of ignorance, receding,
carries the flotsam of hatred out to sea.
For in this House sweet justice found a hearing,
on this morning hope escaped her weary cage.
Here our mothers shut the door on wickedness,
turning back the slurs of ignorant contempt.
Plantation politics are gone forever,
and the battlefields will be forgotten, too.
But here, our memories endure unbroken,
a hall for testimony and praise endures.
Here in the daylight of truth we will judge them,
laying down law against naked oppression.
Let this House be a fortress for the weary,
a sanctuary for all those dispossessed.
And those who seek the way inside will have faith,
for the door has not been barred to supplicants.
Raise up your voices in this hymn of giving,
give voice to what is promised and what is done.
For no drop of blood shed here will be in vain,
this House can hear the cry of the downtrodden.
In concert and in grace we rejoin the call
to witness and to face this heavy burden,
here at the summit, raised from the prison door.
Let us celebrate our friends’ liberation.
The warp and weave of resentment is undone,
and the snare that held us now is unravelled.
This House is not jealous of its dignity.
Tangled in misconceptions the unjust lie.
The hateful retreat to their stripped down barracks,
all those who forswear the teachings of mercy.
For not always will poverty be punished,
the hope of the working class will not burn out.
All rise, and let no man flaunt his advantage,
let claimants appeal to just mercy alone.
May this House put fear in its proper standing,
so all comers remember, we bleed alike.

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Filed under Music, Poetry, Roll Credits

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