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October 2, 2014 / robinswood

“How does the soul remove?”

I was recently alerted to the existence of Andrew W. Brand’s song-poem “The How does the Soul Remove?”, and thought I should share it here on my book blog. There is, of course, a venerable tradition of poetry inspired by the life and music of John Coltrane, the most significant coming from poets of the Black Arts era. Notable examples include “Did John’s Music Kill Him?” by A. B. Spellman,” “How Long Has Trane Been Gone” by Jayne Cortez, and  “Dear John, Dear Coltrane” by Michael Harper.

I particularly appreciate Brand’s references to the “rotting tooth in the gum” (Coltrane had serious dental issues, due to an all but insatiable appetite for candy and sweet potato pie), and “body weakly, body asleep”. In using such images, he effectively acknowledge the man’s humanness and flaws. So often Coltrane gets uncritically turned into something of a flawless plaster saint, and part of what I learned as I wrote my God’s Mind in That Music was that he managed to offer material of incredible insight and power in spite of his own failings.

Part of the experience of Brand’s song-poem is clearly in the music. Led by former Powder Blues Band sax player Wayne Kozak, the quintet evokes Coltrane’s more experimental and free work from the final years of his life.

Andrew W. Brand is a Canadian song-poet who currently resides in Seoul, South Korea. In 1995 he was writer-in-residence at the legendary Shakespeare and Company on Paris’ Left Bank, known for the beat generation poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Andrew’s influences range from T.S. Eliot to Paul Celan. He can be contacted through email at


(Dedicated to the memory of Josh Derksen) 


How does the soul remove, Johntrane?

How does the soul remove in letters to you?

Like a stubborn rotting tooth in the gum, Johntrane

You went; you climbed the stairs, the room Trane

How does the soul remove a rotting tooth, John, sunken deep, John?

I want to help Johntrane,

I have it, jab it deep, and wait and then wait for the visit without afterglow

A strange tooth Trane, jabbed deeper and death and death and death

How does the soul remove it?




How, how, how does the soul remove?

How, how, how does the soul remove?


Do you wake up one day and find yourself famous forever and a day?

Come down from the upstairs, the upper closed door

Skid row, death row, Lover’s tomb Johntrane


(Instrumental bridge)


A burst of heaven and the awakening is through, Johntrane, Johntrane!

The body weakly, the body asleep

The spirit is going to and fro, talking with God and the devil, Mr. Trane

Arranging new visitations, arranging new visions


How, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?

How, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?


The body is slow John, along the stairs,

the body glows, John in the death of sleep

the wind, too ekes out poisons ,goes slow too, Johntrane, Johntrane

How, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?

How, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?


Where does the music come, how does it come,

and how does the soul remove?

For the sound, the fury, the shout of the awakening!

From the sleep that took the years and took years, this sleep, John


How, how, how, how, how, how does the soul remove?


The saxophone is not hollow now, Trane

it is not the silent of sleep

the saxophone is filled now with the fullness of time


Whatever dream you dream, dreamer

however small, however big

it will be a thousand floral reds,

blues, blues

a million yellows

It will be the color of hallucination

without intoxication


This is how the soul removes!

This is how the soul removes!

This is how the soul removes;

by way of the blues

(© Andrew W. Brand. Posted with permission)


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