Questions about Lennies

I’m a local. I was born in the greater Rochester area, and I’ve always lived in same house. Upstate New York has a lot of talent packed into its square miles. While browsing the anthology, Angles of Ascent, I flipped to the back of the collection to the biographical notes on the authors who are included in the anthology. The first line stuck out to me of Cornelius Eady’s note: “was born in Rochester, New York…” As I read further, I learned that he attended Monroe Community College and eventually ended up directing the creative writing program at Notre Dame University, along with teaching at many other colleges. To top off his impressive track record, in 1999, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in the drama category, and in 2001 his book of poetry, Brutal Imagination, was nominated for The National Book Award in the poetry category.

Before I even read his poetry, I had made up my mind to like Eady and his work. In Gandy Dancer, we would call my uneducated adoration for him “owl criticism”: enjoying something just because it contains, or is about, something that we already like.

There is a strong musical presence in his work. Before his poetry in the anthology, Eady writes about music being another way of a person telling their story. In his poem, “Photo of Miles Davis at Lennies-on-the-Turnpike, 1968,” he writes about the aftermath of American Jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis’s death.

I know very little about jazz, so I looked up the references in the poem that I was not familiar with. Lennies-on-the-Turnpike was a legendary jazz club owned by Lennie Sogoloff. Miles Davis was a frequent performer at the club.

The poem begins with four lines that are rather self explanatory: “New York grows/Slimmer/In his absence./I suppose.” Davis studied at Julliard in New York, and Eady tells us that all of New York will suffer from his death.

Eady writes about a picture of Miles: “You could also title this picture/Of Miles, his leathery/Squint, the grace in his fingers a sliver of the stuff.” I googled to see if there really was a image of Miles Davis at Lennies on the Turnpike. As it turns out, there are many photos of musicians at Lennies, but I am not sure which photo–if any–has Miles in it. 

Towards the end of the poem, I started to lose focus as to what it was trying to say: “You can’t get anymore,/ as the rest of us wonder:/ What was the name/Of the driver” At first, I thought that maybe Davis has been killed in a car accident of some kind, but after a bit more research, I found that not to be true. Perhaps the references to the truck as not as literal as the reader may perceive them to be. 

The  implication that Davis died in a car crash becomes stronger as the poem concludes: “Of that truck? And the rest/ Of us sigh:/ Death is one hell/ Of a pickpocket.” The line about death being described as a pickpocket felt like an appropriate comparison. Often we do not know that death has even struck someone that we know until hours after the fact, much like being pick pocketed. However, we know that life is much more valuable than any single item that could be pick pocketed.

I am not sure what to make of this poem. I am able to piece some of its lines together, but I can not understand the last two stanzas. Has anyone else read the poem? If so, what was their takeaway from it?

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