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Dancing with Language: The Poems of Quincy Troupe

September 28, 2007

Dancing with Language: The Poems of Quincy Troupe

By Kwan Booth (April 15,

For the over 30 years, the poet, professor, biographer and memoirist Quincy Troupe has been fooling around with words. From 1972’s “Embry” to the 1996’s “Avalanche” and up through his current volume, Troupe has made a career of reinterpreting the musicality in language. His 1989 biography of Miles Davis, took those interpretations a step further as he chronicled the life of one of the most important figures in jazz history.

“The Architecture of Language,” released in October 2006, finds the poet at a creative crossroads. Since the 1999 collection “Choruses”, Troupe has been hinting at a new direction in his work. One poem from that collection, “Song,” promises “words & sounds that build bridges toward a new tongue” and “Architecture” is Troupe’s attempt to make good on that promise. In this collection, newer, more experimental poems share space with Troupe’s classic jazz styles.

About a third of the book shows the poet stomping around his old poetic home. Poems like “Eggplants” and “In Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe” find waxing lyrical on fable and friendship, while pieces like “Vichyssoise” display why he’s revered for his ability to turn a phrase.

Another third is dedicated to poems grappling with the modern world. In addition to tributes like “For Richard Pryor” and “Lucille (for Lucille Clifton)” addressing personal relationships, poems like “Shared Poem” speak to the current political climate.

The remaining poems, where Troupe dives headfirst into the now, are where things get interesting. Troupe has said he’s no longer challenged by his old linear style and that he could write these poems “in his sleep.” Beginning with “What is that Poetry Seeks” the poems begin to jump and move in a more chaotic way, jumping between ideas and imagery in ways that resemble the work of newer poets like Harryette Mullen more so than Ishmael Reed, a Troupe’s contemporary.

“Switchin in the Kitchen” is probably the best example of this new direction. The work shifts from “the sick war, invented by chicken hawk cheney-bush wags” to “pigology” and “filo-plumes.” At times it’s obvious that the writer is still finding his legs, but the majority of the new work is saved by Troupe’s skilled control of the form. Reading “Architecture,” you get to see the transformation of a great writer as he stretches for new ideas, new sounds and new tongues.

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