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Lay for the Day
22nd April

1922: the birthday of the jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus.
The poem refers to the track ‘What Love’, which is Mingus’s version of Ellington’s ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’. It developed on stage into a musical dialogue between Mingus and Eric Dolphy, playing bass clarinet. A studio performance – though Mingus pretends to be in a club, with spoken introductions to the pieces and admonitions to the clientele not to clink their glasses during the music – can be heard on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, recorded for Nat Hentoff’s esteemed but short-lived Candid label in October 1960. (“Thank you again for not applauding,” he says before they start playing this one.) Another, better still, is on the Mingus at Antibes album, recorded in concert in July of that year.

Charles & Eric

Just reach me that skellingtune.

Would you be hormonious? Don’t bowdlerise the blues.

Bowdada? Bowdada? I ain’t skeered.

Bravo, mon mesmeriste, triste muezzin!

Scalliwag. Wagtail. Wag and tale man, teller. I’ll tell how, and how.

Lurch up here beside me till I buzz your bones out.

Oh no you don’t.

Do. I do.

Old stout one. I ain’t skeered.

Blood buddy.

Aha. A havoc I’ll wreak on a rag and bone scale.

Blow, young vagabond!

And valuable, remember? Ember? Voluble – a member? Pandemonium.

O rum, O bad and rum, O bird, abandoned boy, my bester.

Jester. I’ll veer, scutter.

Utter, nutter – go!

No. Wonder. I’ll wander awhile. Gambol and squander not your melody, long-breathed fellow. I am. Bop. And will be.

Walk With Man, say? Or Human Marvel?

Yes, and Edgy Alien Poet.

But how’d you lead or board a bear – beard him in a lair?

Underground, daddy, if you dare, you wayward aristo, boss, profuse crater.

Dare me not, thou duodecaphonic dandy, Dolphy.

O mangle, mingle it –

I’ll drive, I’ll dizzy you, dazzle and, in a brief word, deliver.

Unmentionable, major man, Mingus –



Pattercake. Paired abroad a pattery ark.

What but? Love but. What what? Otherwise –

Trickler as a paraclete.

Weeper tetra! Pass. A parry.

Parsed with wit, son.

What love?

Wise love.

John Gibbens
from The Improvised Version, Vol. 1

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar