Paris à l’improviste: Jacques Réda, Jazz, and Sub-Urban Beauty


Jacques Réda is best known as a poet of place, remarkable precisely for his interest in the unremarkable and his compelling descriptions of nondescript places, the kind that most of us traverse unseeingly in our day-to-day lives. He has also led a notable second career as a jazz critic, having written extensively on the music and its history. The relationship between these two pursuits seems to be a lopsided one: the influence of his poetic preoccupations on his jazz writing is clear and pervasive, but the influence of the music on the poetry is much less obvious and harder to characterize. And yet it played a crucial role in his development as a poet. Réda spent the early part of his career in search of his own distinctive voice and thematic territory. He found it in his somewhat eccentric approach to the evocation of place, which is most tellingly characterized by the apparent aimlessness of the flâneur, who works in what appears to be a random manner (à l’improviste), devoting himself to ephemera, and unapologetically refusing to monumentalize his subject matter. Having realized that his poetic vocation lay in this direction, but unsure precisely how to explain what made this subject matter so compelling to him, Réda found himself in need of a set of aesthetic principles—a way to explain and justify his poetic practice, if only to himself. It is, I argue, through his study of jazz that he was finally able to develop the vocabulary necessary to articulate such a set of principles and become the poet of place that we know today.

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