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Works in Progress: Beat Poet John Sinclair
10/15/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Poet John Sinclair has been described as a pioneer in the counter-cultural movement that began in the 1960s. He's been at the forefront of the underground publishing movement, he's managed rock bands, organized concerts, and was also founder of the White Panther movement - a group of white left-wing activists united in sympathy with the radical civil rights organization, the Black Panthers. In 1969 he was imprisoned for possessing a small amount of marijuana. His plight inspired a freedom rally and concert: John Lennon even wrote a song in his honor. Today, Sinclair lives in Amsterdam and still performs regularly around the world, often to musical accompaniment. As part of our ongoing series, Works in Progress, where we talk to artists about the creative process, Maine Things Considered host Tom Porter spoke to Sinclair this afternoon, as he prepared for a performance this evening in Portland.

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Works in Progress: Poet John Sinclair Listen
 Duration:
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Sinclair performs "I Mean You"
Originally Aired: 10/15/2013 5:30 PM
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"Most of my work deals with music and musicians," Sinclair says. "That's my passion - is music."

John Sinclair writes poetry inspired by music. And he's particularly interested by one jazz pianist. "Well, you know, my major work in verse is an elongated investigation of the music of Thelonious Monk. I'm writing a poem for every musical piece that Thelonious Monk ever recorded, the first time. I've been working on it for 30 years. I've almost finished the first half."

So far, Sinclair has completed four books of Monk-inspired poetry - and, as he explains, he has to have the music of the man himself in his ears while he creates.

"When I work on the Monk poems, I play the piece of music over and over again while I'm writing, while I'm composing, while I'm editing, from beginning to end," he says, "so that I make sure that I'm in the correct rhythmic framework that goes with the piece."

What appeals to Sinclair about writing poetry, he says, is that, unlike other types of writing, it's a medium which indulges itself completely in the creative process. It cannot be done properly under duress, with a deadline looming.

"With poetry, it's outside of that completely - it's when you get the inspiration to do something. There's no demand for its issue by Friday," he says, laughing. "So I take advantage of that, you know."

John Sinclair will perform at Bull Feeney's restaurant in Portland at 7:00 p.m. tonight, accompanied by local musicians. Tomorrow he'll be in Portsmouth NH, and on Thursday in Belfast.

Learn more about John Sinclair and his poetry.

 



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