Ivan Smason's Jazz Boy
"Poetry is for readers across time," states Ivan Smason in his chapbook, Jazz Boy. While his collection is steeped in Southern mystique and bebop, this axiom rings true of Smason's views on romance, religion, and love of his hometown, New Orleans.
There is wistfulness, amusement, and admiration for the opposite sex in Smason's poems "Irish Girls" and "The First Time I Saw Her." Smason maintains a gentlemanly and tolerant view as a counterpoint to Irish girls who "love music and romance," but will "take the varnish off your pants." His observations, though structured in a formal tone, are nonetheless engaging.
In "For Marie Amelia (when she feels alone)," he introduces us to (a moment) times when:
Sometimes now and sometimes then
a person starts to feel
That she is but the only one
who knows of what is real.
He speaks of the descent into loneliness, the emptiness of being incomplete when a woman, in this case Marie Amelia, is faced with the possibility of growing old alone. This is reminiscent of Ogden Nash's "A Lady Who Think She is Thirty," but while Nash gently scolds Miranda for her foolishness:
Oh, Night will not see thirty again,
Yet soft her wing, Miranda;
Pick up your glass and tell me, then--
How old is Spring, Miranda?
Smason leaves Marie Amelia with reassurance and a touch of tenderness:
But for the girl who is
a heart and shall forever be
For when you ever feel alone,
you will always have me.
While Smason rhapsodizes about love, he turns an uncompromising eye to the subject of discrimination; in particular, anti-Semitism. Growing up Jewish in Roman Catholic New Orleans may have given Smanson a personal and unique perspective of how Jews were (and still may be) regarded in the South, as he enumerates in his poem "Like," an ironic, though not surprising list of anti-Semitic historical figures, colors, and symbols:
Lion-hearted like King Richard
Articulate like Arthur Schopenhauer
Bombastic like Richard Wagner
Yellow like a badge
Green like countryside
Gentile like the masses
"Like" rips the reader through history, with the admonition that the human tendency to fear, and to exclude those they cannot or refuse to understand, is "constant like time." Smason is articulate and unyielding in this vein, as he further hammers this point home with his poems "Schopenhauer's Women: An alphabetic misogyny," "Bolinas," and "Men." If not for the universal experience of exclusion, conveyed by Smason, these poems would seem almost to work against the very message they are trying to impart.
New Orleans: its seductive, playful nature, its legacy of jazz and the joy of just 'being,' run through all of the poems in Jazz Boy. In "The Green Fairy," Smason takes the reader on a colorful, nocturnal journey through the French Quarter, and concludes with a recipe (which may or may not be legit), for absinthe. "Crescent City," describes a showdown between Good (Big 'Ol Nun) and Evil (the Devil), during Mardi Gras, and "The Uptown Jazz Boy Scat"
-well-flirts and bebops back and forth with all the energy jazz is known for:
Beeda de boo de ba de ba bop!
I saw that jazz boy- way Uptown
I said, "Hey jazz boy, I've seen you around!
Come on jazz boy, walk with me
I wanna keep you company.
Smason mentions in the forward to his book that Jazz Boy was originally conceived and produced for the Yale Press Series Chapbook Competition for Younger Poets under 40. He doesn't reveal how it fared, or if it won, but that hardly matters. He's proven his point: poetry is for readers across time. Anyone who reads this book, now or in the future, will encounter some truth about themselves-good or ill-in the pages of Jazz Boy.
Ivan Smason began writing poetry in high school, the Webb School in Claremont, CA. His first poem was entitled "The Plagiarist's Dream Come True." As a college freshman in Syracuse, his English teacher helped him get placed in the honors program in English. It is still, he says, one of the best if not THE best offer he ever had. However, he did not pursue the English track, majoring instead in psychology. He is now a licensed psychologist and holds master and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology from Trinity University and the University of New Mexico, as well as a law degree from McGeorge in Sacramento. In 1999 one of Ivan's piano instrumentals was selected for inclusion on the highly praised (albeit difficult to find) CD, "Mama Told Me Not To Sing: The Songs of Randy Newman." In 2002 Ivan released his first spoken word CD, "Marijuana." Ivan points out that his work has been rejected by The Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Progressive, and a host of other journals. Jazz Boy can be found at Hidey Ho Comics in Santa Monica, various independent bookstores or in Ivan's back pocket.
(Jazz Boy, 36 pages, copyright 2003 Ivan Smason)