"I'm most concerned that poems work on the page," says Essex Hemphill, whose "Earth Life," a collection of recent work, was published this week by Be-Bop Books. "But I see that there are times when poems seem to work better in the air."
Thus has come about the collaboration between Hemphill and bassist, pianist and composer Wayson Jones, who will perform together at 8 p.m. Saturday at d.c. space.
Hemphill wrote his first verse in the early 1970s while at Hart Junior High and says that he draws most of his subjects from personal experience; his influences include Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and "the phrasing of Billie Holiday."
Saturday's program will include "Drinking," based on his observations of neighborhood alcoholic types and set to Charles Mingus' tune "Pork Pie Hat"; and "Black Beans," in which the poet "imagines Chicago tenements." Hemphill enthuses over the music that Jones wrote for the latter, "a very nice jazz blues that works just superbly."
"In many instances the music and the poetry, they've just wedded together automatically," says Hemphill of his partnership with Jones. "Wayson is open and willing to write to suit even the rhythm and the mood of my work. I see unlimited possibilities."