Talkin’ about Stompin’ at the Grand Terrace

A Conversation with Poet Philip Bryant about writing, jazz, and the art of Zen

| Online Exclusive: July-August 2009

When he was 13-years-old, Philip S. Bryant, author of Stompin’ at the Grand Terrace: A Jazz Memoir in Verse, told his parents he wanted to be a poet. It would have been understandable if Bryant’s father, James, a city college student who was stuck doing menial labor, had hoped his son’s declaration was a lark. Instead, the progressive, union-label Democrat was proud that the books and records crammed in to the Bryant’s Chicago flat had rubbed off. He encouraged Philip to put his dreams on paper.

Bryant, now 57, earned an English degree from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, and then a master’s degree in creative writing from New York’s Columbia University. From 1975 to 1989 he taught in and around Chicago. He eventually returned to St. Peter where he is a Professor of English.

In 1998 Bryant published Sermon on a Perfect Spring Day (New Rivers). In one of the collections final poems, readers meet James’ friend Preston, who whiles away the hours bent over the Bryant’s turntable “bullshitting” with Jame about “jazz, jazz, jazz.” In the ensuing year, the memories of those night  kept stacking up and found their way onto the pages of the book Stompin’ at the Grand Terrace, a labor of love of memory and understanding.

Earlier this summer, Bryant sat down with David Schimke, editor in chief of Utne Reader, to talk about growing up on the South Side of Chicago and writing jazz poems in Northern Minnesota.


David Schimke: What are the origins of your passion for poetry?