Smells Like Sulfur Here and other works by John Sinclair


Long-time New Orleanian and legendary jazz & blues scholar, John Sinclair currently lives in Amsterdam. He published his first book of poetry, This Is Our Music, at the Detroit Artists Workshop Press in 1965, followed by FIRE MUSIC: a record (1966), The Poem for Warner Stringfellow (1966), Meditations: A Suite for John Coltrane (1967), We Just Change the Beat: Selected Poems (1988), Fattening Frogs For Snakes: Delta Sound Suite (2002) and too many more to mention. IT'S ALL GOOD: A John Sinclair Reader (HeadPress, 2009) combines prose and poetry, including selections from his elongated jazz work in verse, always know: a book of monk. Check out his weekly radio show




                                                              for david & hali & brad hales


at 3:00 o'clock in the morning
on mardi gras night
in detroit
some nutty motherfucker

in room 412
of the forest arms apartments
at 2nd & forest
set his room on fire

& burned himself up
& all the worldly possessions
of his fellow tenants
who would now have to start their lives all over

while he would go on to his grave
& take their building
down with him, this commodious home
to countless 1000s of students

& artists & bohemians
on their way into
or out of the motor city
since the building was erected

in 1904, generation
after generation of young detroiters
filled every apartment
with energy & life & art

like the 100 current residents
who were turned out by the fire
& the poet himself
as a young man

fresh out of flint, michigan
in the spring of 1964
rented the basement apartment,
#b-2, on the other side

of the forest arms
from where the amsterdam espresso
& people's record shop would be
some 40 years later

& where I met my first wife
when she lived next door
in the building
on the corner of prentis-this place

where i learned how to write
& lived with allen van newkirk,
poet & prophet
of paleo-cybernetics

& then with charles moore,
cornetist & philosopher
who taught me how to live
the way i have lived

for all the years since,
exactly as I wanted to
& in exact conformance
with the system of beliefs

that came into being
in that basement apartment
at the forest arms, & continues
into the present moment-this life

which began for me
when i met lyman woodard
in the student union
at flint junior college in 1961-this life

of the mind & spirit
rooted in humanism
& love of art, & manifested
in creative production

& social engagement, like trane said
"to be a force for good"
& make an impact
on the world at large

with no promise of recompense
or material reward
beyond the joy of creation
& the thrills of connectivity,

the deep friendships formed
with fellow seekers
of many persuasions
who follow the same path,

sharing our visions
& our love for each other,
our humble possessions
& our commitment to personal freedom

& social liberation, living & working
the clenched domain
of the white people, & open

to experience
without prejudice, & to people
of every sort of origin
who have transcended the circumstances

we were born into
& transformed ourselves
in accordance with our beliefs
to live the life we love

& make a world
for ourselves
that can hold & carry us
through the certain ugliness ahead-

after the forest arms has burnt up
& amsterdam espresso has been ruined
& all of brad hales' 1000s of lps destroyed
& the building abandoned

& all the things we used to love
about our country
disfigured by greed
& turned against us-this life

we have made
out of love & resistance, this life
which exists
in our hearts & minds

wherever we may be, this life
which is shared
with our brothers & sisters
wherever we may find them, this life

we carry with us
wherever we go-ahhh, this
is the life, dear friends,
this is the life for me

april 9-16, 2008



"i'll follow you"
                                                              for penny


i've spent more
than a quarter of a century
with you em-
bedded at the center

of my life, & i'm still
just as crazy about you
as i've always been,
even though

you may never join me
in the life i'm seeking
on the other side
of the atlantic ocean,

but now
i'm right here
in the motor city
& you don't want to see me,

i guess i thought
you would never leave me be-
hind, but how wrong
can a motherfucker be,

& now i'm afraid
that you've started a
new life for yourself
without me in it,

& i wouldn't blame you,
to find another man
who can be there for you
when you need him, & help you

with your troubles,
& hold you
through the cold detroit nights
& bring you

whatever semblance of happiness
you are able to secure-oh,
if i've lost you
i've lost the love

of my life, heart
of my heart, lover
of my wildest dreams,
forgiver of my trespasses,

faithful companion
& partner in crime
as long as you could see fit,
you've followed me so long

against all possible odds
& i can feel you turning a-
way from me
although not a word

has been spoken
but if you don't want me
i won't stand in your way,
if i can't make it right

& there's no happy ending
to our protracted romance
I'll step out of your life
& wish you the best,

my baby,
but my heart will follow you
& follow you
for the rest of my days


august 20/30-31, 2005/
october 10, 2005/
rochester ny
january 18, 2007



"swing spring"
                                                              for antoniello "rent"


ah, to close out
the springtime
in italia dolce

& swing
into summer, with the sun a-

in the roman sky
& the moon on full
in abruzzo,

for il poeta americano
how sweet it is
to be so alive!


-route a-24
roma > fossa cesia
june 30, 2007


"Smells Like Sulfur Here"

In September 2006,
the President of Venezuela,
Hugo Chavez,
addressed the United Nations
with a speech titled Rise Up Against the Empire:

"The hegemonic pretensions
of the American empire," he said,
"are placing at risk
the very survival
of the human species. The devil

is right at home. The devil,
the devil himself,
is right in the house. And the devil
came here yesterday. Yesterday
the devil came here.

Right here. [crosses himself]
And it smells
of sulfur
still today. Yesterday,
ladies & gentlemen,

from this rostrum,
the president of the United States,
the gentleman
to whom I refer
as the devil,

came here,
talking as if he owned the world.
Truly. As the owner
of the world. Full
of this imperial hypocrisy

from the need they have
to control everything.
What type of democracy
do you impose
with marines & bombs? The imperialists

see extremists everywhere. It's not
that we are extremists. It's that the world
is waking up. It's waking
up all over. And people
are standing up.

You can call us extremists,
but we are rising up
against the empire, against the model
of domination. They kidnapped me
& they were going to kill me,

but I think God reached down
& our people came out
into the streets
& the army was too,
& so I'm here today.

Over & above all of this,
I think there are reasons
to be optimistic, because
over & above the wars
& the bombs

& the aggression
& the "preventive war"
& the destruction
of entire peoples, one can see
that a new era

is dawning.
As Silvio Rodriguez says,
the era
is giving birth
to a heart.

There are alternative ways of thinking.
There are young people
who think differently. It was shown
that the end of history
was a totally false assumption.

What we now have to do
is define the future
of the world. Dawn
is breaking out all over. You can see it
in Africa

& Europe
& Latin America
& Oceana. I want
to emphasize
that optimistic vision.

We have to strengthen ourselves,
our will
to do battle,
our awareness. We have to build
a new & better world.

We want ideas
to save our planet,
to save the planet
from the imperialist threat. And hopefully
in this very century,

in not too long a time,
we will see this,
we will see this new era,
& for our children
& our grandchildren

a world of peace. It smells
of sulfur here,
but God is with us
& I embrace you all. May God
bless us all. Good day to you."


-Edited & arranged by John Sinclair
September 23-27, 2006/

Yippie Museum Café
New York City
January 4, 2007/

Two Stick
Oxford MS
February 5, 2007/

Crofoot Ballroom
Pontiac MI
April 19, 2008