Poems and songs about rhythm


(Rhythm playlist) **Art: Postcard Promoting Exhibition at Tony Shafrazi Gallery (New York, NY) by Keith Haring, 1983 (source)

“Riddim an’ Hardtimes” by Lillian Allen (Spanish Town, Jamaica, US; reggae musician, creative writing professor; Dub Poet)
– from Wheel and Come Again: an Anthology of Reggae Poetry

An’ him chucks on some riddim
an’ yu hear him say
riddim an’ hardtimes
riddim an’ hardtimes

music a prance
dance inna head
drumbeat a roll
hot like lead

Mojah Rasta gone dread
natt up natt up
red (…)

drum beat drum beat
pulse beat
heart beat
riddim an’ hardtimes
riddim an’ hardtimes
riddim an’ hard

“Dubbed Out” by Jean “Binta” Breeze (b. 1957; Jamaica; director, scriptwriter, literary magazine editor, lecturer; Dub and Performance Poet)
– from Wheel and Come Again: an Anthology of Reggae Poetry

search for words

in their music




beat (…)

“Crazy Rhythm” from the musical Here’s Howe by Irving Caesar (1895-1996; New York; theatre composer), Joseph Meyer (1894-1987; California; songwriter), and Roger Wolfe Kahn (1907-1962; New Jersey, US; bandleader, composer)
– from Reading Lyrics: More than a Thousand of the Finest Lyrics from 1900 to 1975

I feel like the Emperor Nero when Rome was a very hot town
Father Knickerbocker, forgive me, I play while your city burns down
Through all its night life I fiddle away
It’s not the right life, but think of the pay
Someday I will bid it goodbye, I’ll put my fiddle away and I’ll say

Crazy rhythm here’s the doorway
I’ll go my way, you’ll go your way
Crazy rhythm from now on we’re through
Here is where we have a showdown
I’m too high-hat, you’re too low-down
Crazy rhythm here’s goodbye to you

They say that when a high-brow meets a low-brow walking along Broadway
Soon the high-brow, he has no brow
Ain’t it a shame, and you’re to blame
What’s the use of Prohibition?
You produce the same condition
Crazy rhythm I’ve gone crazy, too (…)

“Batouque” (Dual-Language) by Aimé Césaire (1913-2008; Basse-Pointe, Martinique, France [island of]; playwright, essayist, politician) [tr. Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith Rice] – from 100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century

Les rizières de mégots de crachat sur l’étrange sommation
de ma simplicité se tatouent de pitons.
Les mots perforés dans ma salive resurgissent en villes
d’écluse ouverte, plus pâle sur les faubourgs
O les villes transparentes montées sur yaks
sang lent pissant aux feuilles de filigrane le dernier souvenir
le boulevard comète meurtrie brusque oiseau traversé
se frappe en plein ciel
noyé de flèches
C’est la nuit comme je l’aime très creuse et très nulle
éventail de doigts de boussole effondrés au rire blanc des sommeils.

quand le monde sera nu et roux
comme une matrice calcinée par les grands soleils de
l’amour batouque
quand le monde sera sans enquête
un coeur merveilleux où s’imprime le décor
des regards brisés en éclats
pour la première fois

quand les attirances prendront au piège les étoiles
quand l’amour et la mort seront
un même serpent corail ressoudé autour d’un bras sans joyau
sans suie
sans defense (…)

The rice fields of cigarette butts of spit on the strange summons
of my simplicity are tattooing themselves with sharp peaks.
Floodgate open, the words perforate in my saliva
paler above the cities, resurface as cities
O transparent cities mounted on yaks
slow blood pissing the last memory into filigreed leaves
the boulevard bruised comet brusque crossed bird
strikes itself right in the sky
drowned in arrows
It’s my kind of night most hollow and most null
a fan of compass fingers collapsed into the white laughter of slumbers.

once the world is naked and russet
like a womb burned to a cinder by the great suns of love
once the world is without inquest
a wondrous heart where the scenery of glances
splintered to bits is embossed
for the first time

once the attraction entrap the stars
once love and death are
a single coral snake resoldered around a gemless arm
without soot
without defense (…)

“Stepping Out: II” by Allen Fisher (b. 1944; London, England; painter, publisher, teacher, performer, essayist) – from Other: British and Irish Poetry since 1970

Deliberation and flow blend
The emergent post-transformation
Molecular common to utterance
Explicit derivations
Thankfully spacetime becoming discontinuous
Waves of dense clusters
Become more deliberate than personality
The smallest detail relates functionally to design
To share the conviction that limits can be overstepped.

{see also “Stepping Out: I”}

“Fascinating Rhythm”  by Ira Gershwin (1896-1983; lyricist) and George Gershwin (1898-1937; New York, US; composer, pianist) [used in the musicals Lady Be Good and Nice Work If You Can Get It]
– from Reading Lyrics: More than a Thousand of the Finest Lyrics from 1900 to 1975

Got a little rhythm, a rhythm, a rhythm
That pit-a-pats through my brain;
So darn persistent,
The day isn’t distant
When it’ll drive me insane.
Comes in the morning
Without any warning,
And hangs around me all day.
I’ll have to sneak up to it
Someday, and speak up to it.
I hope it listens when I say:

Fascinating Rhythm,
You’ve got me on the go!
Fascinating Rhythm,
I’m all a-quiver.

What a mess you’re making!
The neighbors want to know
Why I’m always shaking
Just like a flivver. (…)

“All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” by Gus Kahn (1886-1941; Germany / Chicago, Illinois; lyricist), Walter Jurmann (1903-1971; Austria / Germany / Los Angeles, California; film composer), and Bronislaw Kaper (1902-1983; Poland / Germany / Los Angeles, California, US) composer for theater and film)
– from Reading Lyrics: More than a Thousand of the Finest Lyrics from 1900 to 1975

I got a frown, you got a frown
All God’s chillun got a frown on their face
Take no chance with that frown
A song and a dance, turn it upside down

Ah, ah-ah-ah-ah, zazoo, zazoo
All God’s chillun got rhythm, all God’s chillun got swing
Maybe haven’t got money, maybe haven’t got shoes
All God’s chillun got rhythm for to push away their blues

All God’s chillun got trouble, troubles do-on’t mean a thing
When they start to go ho-ho-ho
The old troubles bound to go ‘way, say
All God’s chillun got swing

All God’s children got rhythm
Da-da-do-day, ra-do-day, ra-do-da-do, da-da, da-da-day…
Doh-da-do-day, ra-do-day, ra-do, da-do, da-do-day (…)

https://i2.wp.com/www.longwharf.org/sites/default/files/u3/AM%20006hi.jpg Production photo of Ain’t Misbehavin’, a musical revue of Harlem musicians of the ‘20s and ‘30s; produced by Long Wharf Theatre (New Haven, Connecticut, US), 2011 (source)

“Spreadin’ Rhythm Around” by Ted L. Koehler (1894-1973; Washington, D.C., US; lyricist) and Jimmy McHugh (1894-1969; Boston, Massachusetts, US; composer) [used in the musical Ain’t Misbehavin’]
– from Reading Lyrics: More than a Thousand of the Finest Lyrics from 1900 to 1975

Music everywhere, feet are pattin’,
Puttin tempo in old Manhattan,
Everybody is out high-hattin’,
Spreadin’ rhythm around.

Everwhere you go, trumpets blarin’,
Drums and saxophones rippin’, tearin’,
Everybody you meet is rarin’,
Spreadin’ rhythm around.

Up in Harlem, in any flat,
They give it that thing,
which, accordin’ to one and all,
Is what they call swing!

Those who can’t afford silk and satin
Dance with gigolos who are Latin,
Come from Yonkers, The Bronx and Staten,
Spreadin’ rhythm around.

“Meciendo” by Gabriela Mistral (Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga) (1889-1957; Vicuña, Chile; diplomat, teacher) [tr. Maria Giachetti]
– from These Are Not Sweet Girls: Poetry by Latin American Women

El mar sus millares de olas
mece, divino.
Oyendo a los mares amantes,
mezo a mi niño.

El viento errabundo en la noche
mece los trigos.
Oyendo a los vientos amantes,
mezo a mi niño.

Dios Padre sus miles de mundos
mece sin ruido.
Sintiendo su mano en la sombra
mezo a mi niño.

Rocking / The sea with its thousands of waves
rocks, divinely.
Listening to the loving seas,
I rock my child.

The wandering wind in the night
rocks the wheat.
Listening to the loving winds,
I rock my child.

The Lord God with his thousands of worlds
rocks them without a sound.
Feeling his hand in the shadow,
I rock my child.

“Poetry Makes Rhythm in Philosophy” by Ishmael Scott Reed (b. 1938; Chattanooga, Tennessee, US; novelist, essayist, songwriter, playwright, anthology editor, publisher, jazz pianist)
– from Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone: An Anthology of Innovative Poetry by African Americans

Maybe it was the Bichot
Beaujolais, 1970
But in the a.m. upstairs on
Crescent Ave. I had a conversation
With K.C. Bird

We were discussing
Rhythm and I said
“Rhythm makes everything move
The seasons swing
It backs up the elements
Like walking Paul-Chambers fingers (…)

“it must be that in the midst” by Ed Roberson (b. 1939; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US; English professor, artist-in-residence at Northwestern University)
– from Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone: An Anthology of Innovative Poetry by African Americans

it must be that in the midst
of any tonal language there is a constant huddle
of all substance’s matters

where any accident of sound
could speak and
the sound of people’s walk
talk        chicken with your head pecked

is their baldhead heels
in the midst of a song another
song       and any doing sing its work
song (…)

“Now the Two Are One” by Frederick D’Aguiar