"My writing life is schizophrenic," Quincy Troupe says with a slightly manic chuckle during a recent SFR interview. Indeed, Troupe is an award-winning poet, with eight books of poetry, twice winner of the Taos Poetry Circus' Heavyweight Championship and the co-author with Miles Davis of his autobiography and the author of another ***image1***book on his relationship with Davis, Miles and Me. "People know me from Miles Davis and don't know I'm a poet. Or they know I'm a poet and have no idea I wrote those Miles books. What's funny about that is I was first known as a poet."
Capturing Troupe in 700 words is like describing a gray whale from a close-up photograph of one tail fin. He's not interested in the controversies around his resumé (which listed a fictitious BA from Grambling State University) or the Miles Davis autobiography (containing passages alleged by close readers as being similar to other Davis biographies). What could be major sticking points in the careers of other writers and academics seem not to have dented Troupe's opportunities in the least.
"'Trane, Hendrix and Miles Davis are a big influence on my poetry. I'm always looking for the nexus, the junctures of music, language, painting, all the arts. I studied the craft of poetry, too, pretty much on my own, at first anyway. Sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, ghazals, the whole deal."
Troupe was a reluctant poet at first. "I was a basketball player, I hated poetry. My mother used to make me stay inside in East St. Louis and she'd read poems to me, you know? I'd go out and have to hold my own with the street toughs there, prove my manhood 'cause they all knew I'd be inside listening to my mother read poems. I hated that."
Troupe's mother knew best, it turns out. "When I was traveling in France, the only black player on a basketball team over there, I injured my knee and couldn't play anymore. I had a French girlfriend and I was working on a novel and it was so bad, I mean it was a very bad novel. This French girlfriend said, 'There's a friend of the family, a writer, maybe he'd read it and give you some advice.' So we go visit this guy-it's Jean-Paul Sartre. I took one look at him and was like, 'Man, this dude can't dunk-this little guy, what does he know?' and I'm sure Sartre took one look at me and thought, 'This guy doesn't look too bright.' Anyway, Sartre wouldn't read a word I had written, but it turned out we had Miles Davis in common. We started talking, and Sartre said, 'You should write poetry-I hate poets!' He told me to keep a notebook, get command of language. It was great advice."
Though Troupe cites nearly a dozen poets as main influences, he's reluctant to characterize his own work. "I would say my work is indescribable. I'm not being facetious or arrogant. I ran away from schools. I didn't ever think I was even going to be a poet, never ***image2***mind a particular kind or whatever. I don't know what happened in France, maybe it was the water, or wine, or women, but I started devouring all the poetry I could find; it became an obsession. My first published poem was in some little tiny French poetry magazine and it was a terrible poem. Titled 'What Is a Black Man?' I had seen this picture of LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka], stylish and smart-looking, well-dressed, and the caption said 'The King of the Beats.' I was looking for role models and here was this smooth, fashionable, smart writer, the King of the Beats. That was where I headed. I moved to California, got involved in the politics going on then, the music, got to know a lot of radical thinkers."
Troupe's most recent book of poems is titled The Architecture of Language. The eponymous poem is 18 pages long. "There's a lyricism that wasn't there before. I'm pushing the language envelope. Not trying to be complex or abstract, but fusing music and language without being obvious. I'm interested in making it part of the whole flow. Whatever comes into it, that's where it's at."