A "Spoken Word" original, Ted Joans
Ted Joans was born on this date in 1928. He was an African American painter, trumpeter, and a jazz poet.
From Illinois, He studied trumpet, sang bebop, and earned a B.A. in Fine Arts from Indiana University before moving to Greenwich Village in New York City in 1951. He was one of the first Beat poets, and authored over 30 books of poetry, prose, and collage, including Black Pow-Wow, Beat Funky Jazz Poems, Afrodisia, Jazz is Our Religion, Double Trouble, Wow, and Teducation.
Joans was an original of bringing jazz and "spoken word" together on stage. When his former roommate, Charlie Parker, died in 1955, it was Joans who began scrawling "Bird Lives!" all over Lower Manhattan. A well-known Black expatriate, Joans went straight to the Motherland in the early 1960s. Timbuktu became his home base, but he traveled around much of the world, doing poetry readings and writing jazz criticism.
He exchanged ideas with some of the leading figures of the day: Jack Kerouac, Malcolm X, Wifredo Lam, Bob Thompson, and others. Joans’s mantra was "Jazz is my religion and surrealism is my point of view." While his topics ranged from love, poverty, and Africa to the blues and rhinos, all of his writing, like his life, was a persistent revolution. In 1968, Joans brought out his "Black Flower" statement, a surrealist manifesto that envisioned a movement of Black people in the U.S. bringing down American imperialism from within with the weapon of poetic imagery, "black flowers" sprouting all over the land.
In 2000, he and his partner Laura had moved to Canada after the acquittal of the officers who fatally shot Amadou Diallo; he vowed then not to reside in these United States ever again. Ted Joans died in his apartment in Vancouver, Canada on May 7, 2003.
"So in my rather sorrowful impecunious state," he had written not long before his death, "I find myself filled to the beautiful brim with love and with this shared love I continue to live my poem-life." When he died, he had no money, suffered from diabetes, and was surviving by reading poetry and selling his personal papers to libraries. He had just completed his "Collaged Autobiography," a remarkable memoir waiting for the right publisher.
Photo, Larry Keenan,
by Ted Joans,
Illustrations by Laura Corsiglia.
Quicksilver/Quartermoon Press, 1999
Today in American History