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Blue Beat Syncopation: Selected Poems 1977-2002 by Stan Banks


Poet Stan Banks is one of KC’s finest poets to write about jazz. It’s in his blood and tradition, the grandson of a KC Vine Street bootlegger, Georgia, from whom Stan Banks learned much about life’s “pitfalls, tragedies, and triumphs,” he writes. Among other things, Banks is also a jazz poet who writes in the tradition of Langston Hughes, Amiri Barka, Bob Kaufman, Michael S. Harper, Nathaniel Mackey—or even more locally, his late great contemporary Mbembe Milton Smith. One of Banks’s recent poetry collections is the Kansas City Public Library’s latest “book of the moment” FYI Book Club Selection: “Blue Beat Syncopation: Selected Poems 1977-2002.” The book is also part of the library’s summer reading program, which highlights Missouri-related titles, authors, and themes as part of Missouri’s Bicentennial. Banks’s poetry collection thoughtfully and candidly meditates on the Black experience in Kansas City. And, as mentioned, the collection also showcases and features jazz, as part of that heritage and experience. KC jazz features prominently in Banks’s works. He has five books, including his most recent, “Blues Issues.” Stretching to his earlier work, his first collection won the Langston Hughes Prize for Poetry in 1981. Banks, age 64, has taught for decades at Avila University, where he is Artist-in-Residence and Assistant Professor. Artistically, Banks is a hometown hero and statesman, and is a graduate of UMKC, where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In his Avila personal statement, Banks writes, “I am joining a great tradition of artists who believe strongly that the world needs and must know about the importance of the imagination as it relates to Creative Writing.” Banks was a long-time friend and collaborator of the local jazz and blues guitarist and bandleader Sonny Kenner and publicly performed his poems set to Kenner’s music. As Banks writes in his poem “The Jazz Man Hit a Mean Lick (For Sonny Kenner),” “In a Jazz joint in / sweltering Kansas City, / Blues’ strings strained raw / into early morning.” Banks sets the scene for “our scene,” the KC scene, the clubs Kansas Citians know so well, both musicians and listeners. Banks continues, “Every heart jumped and / thumped with each / thumb smack of a cord. / Sonny hit that lick.” Near the poem’s end, Banks notes that everyone inside that club “succumb(ed) to the mesmerizing / seductive licks of / a master musician.” Whether you’re a poet or not, whether you read often or not, as a jazz enthusiast this book (and every Banks book) is for you. His books encapsulate spirit and history, culture, and more—sometimes the indescribable. What are the words behind the tunes? Sometimes they come in the form of lyrics. Sometimes they come in the form of poems. Stan Banks knows this. His artistic life is perhaps the very soundtrack of this town. And all you need to do is open one of his books—and listen.

—Kevin Rabas


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