One cannot fully understand “Monk’s World” without knowing about jazz. To Amiri Baraka, poetry is a form of music guided first by rhythm, without which words, which are rhythmic themselves, do not even exist. To look at “Monk’s World,” therefore, references to the background and the virtuosity of black music are indispensable. Originally appearing in a bilingual Italian publication Morso Dal Suono in 1993, the poem is a dedication to Thelonious Monk, the “High Priest of Bebop” in the 1940’s, and to his music, which has continued to inspire Baraka throughout his career.
Written in avant-garde language and free form, the poem begins with one of Monk’s most enduring jazz ballads, “Round Midnight,” where readers are brought into the jazz scene with Monk improvising the “hot” bebop music—the fire engine solo—in the Village Vanguard, a renowned Manhattan jazz club. Adding to the fervor and musicality of the poem are the terms that Baraka uses: “spaced funk” (“spaced” suggesting the state of being “spaced out” associated with drug taking, particularly marijuana, of which jazz musicians have been fond), “numbers & letters” (musical composition and improvisation), “black keys signifying” (the underlying messages or criticism on which the music plays), “weird birds” (bebop, which is “weird” because it is still new, radical, and somewhat oppositional compared to traditional jazz, and “bird”...
(The entire section is 449 words.)