Canadian poet and writer Stanley Fefferman talks about the blues, jazz, poetry, Homer, Naropa and Mingus

"The Blues is very similar to literary elegy and satire, it is the expression of longing and loss."

Stanley Fefferman: Wonderful World

Canadian Stanley Fefferman is professor emeritus at York University, Toronto. He is active in classical, new music, and jazz circles as a writer and accredited performance photographer. His work is archived on various Canadian sites. Stanley Fefferman has taught poetics at York University and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. He was featured in 30 broadcasts on CBC National Radio. His editorial work includes Exile Literary Quarterly, Poetry Toronto, and Ayatana Press. Since 2004, Stanley has published 500 reviews of Jazz, Folk, Classical, New Music and Opera in The Live Music Report, Showtime Magazine, and Bachtrack.

He is the author of WritingSpace, Captus Press, 1998. Stanley publishes his own site: OpusOneReview, a freely offered support to musicians performing for live audiences in Greater Toronto and elsewhere. York University's Stanley Fefferman Prize awarded annually for the best all-round achievement in the second-year Introduction to Creative Writing course and for the best original portfolio of coursework.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the poetry?

I learned that my mind moves from nature to passion to spirit. I learn that beauty flashes without warning in certain moments. I learned that passionate speech is close to song.

What has been the relationship: music and poetry in your life?

I have always enjoyed singing. I frequently love music. I sometimes enjoy poetry.

I have made careers out of poetry and writing about music. No one has ever paid me to sing. Singing, I feel free.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?

My lovers, my 3 wives, my 3 children, my 3 grandchildren, my 3 gurus, my 3 mentors. They have all challenged me to work, punished my laziness often and sometimes rewarded me with pleasures.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

"Get out.”  Those two words once gave me a sword to save my life from a very bad situation in which I was stuck. Life is flow. Stuck is a knot. “Get out,” is a command that can cut like a sword, and release life into the flow.

"I would change myself so that I understood and was at peace with the way we must live and die."

(Photo: Stanley Fefferman)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

I listen to music from the past all the time: Ellington, Basie, Prez, Couperin, Vivaldi, Haydn, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Dylan, Sarah, Ella, Dinah, Josh White.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I am in my 80th year. My hopes and fears cluster around death, my own and those close to me. I hope for the courage to go with the changes of the last part of my road, especially the mental difficulties that may come with the inevitable physical changes. I hope to show the changes I feel and to make my showings artful, uplifting, and fun.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Jazz with Folk, Blues, and Afro-Cuban music?

Directness of experience, body rhythms, and a deep not caring about tomorrow.

What does the Jazz mean to you? What is the impact of Blues on literature?

Jazz means cool, like a cat, being relaxed, listening and moving, open, in the moment. The Blues is very similar to literary elegy and satire, it is the expression of longing and loss.

What is the relationship between the Music & Poetry to socio-cultural implications?

Both wake me up to the realities that tie me to other people, and also to those that keep me apart from them. Music shows how to flow.

"I have always enjoyed singing. I frequently love music. I sometimes enjoy poetry. I have made careers out of poetry and writing about music. No one ever paid me to sing. Singing, I feel free."

If you could change one thing in the world/people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would change myself so that I understood and was at peace with the way we must live and die.

How does the music and a book affect your mood and inspiration?

Both relax me and invite me into a bigger world: they excite me, and later, things happen.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from York University and Naropa University?

I loved being close to my students. I loved sharing intimacies. I loved when they showed me how to blow their minds. I loved influencing their paths. I laugh out loud when I remember those times.

Where would you really want to go with a time machine and what memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?

Normally, I don't have that kind of daydream. I am attracted to early stories, so I’d like to visit the biblical figures: young Abraham while he was working in his father’s shop, young Joseph in jail, king David when he was a shepherd, the Queen of Sheba, and Jonah on the run before he was swallowed by the whale. It would be a hoot to have a cosmically connected iPhone with me. Imagine!

Which of historical personalities would you like to meet?

I don’t naturally have a wish of that kind. I am drawn to people I imagine I might get along with: superstars, from my experience, don’t fall into that category. That said, I admit I would like to spend time with Hans Christian Andersen.

What would you say to Homer?

Please tell me stories about insights and moments of inspiration in childhood that prepared you for the poet's life?

"I learned that my mind moves from nature to passion to spirit. I learn that beauty flashes without warning in certain moments. I learned that passionate speech is close to song."

What would you like to ask Naropa?

If your paths to scholarship and to realization have a common root, please tell me that story?

How you would spend a day with Charles Mingus?

I might not like that. I love his music but from what I’ve seen and heard of him, Mingus was a rough, harsh, angry person, and a bit dangerous. That said, he is hilarious, so I would like to walk the Left Bank of Paris in April with him, eat and drink a little, hear what he has to say about our time as it passes, and offer a remark or two of my own.

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