73-year-old jazz legend Herbie Hancock has been appointed the 2014 Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard. Hancock will give six lectures on a variety of subjects, including one on his indelible old collaborator called “The Wisdom of Miles Davis,” as he told the BBC. The Norton lectures are almost 100 years young.
The word poetry is from the Greek poiesis — ποίησις — meaning a “making”–and Harvard has long favored this broad definition in choosing its Norton poets, honoring creativity in various arts as much as mastery of meter and rhyme. Regulation poets like T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Czelaw Milosz, and John Ashberry have taken the lectern, but so have novelists, critics, designers (Charles Eames) and visual artists (Frank Stella). And Harvard has historically come down on the side of music as poetry, agreeing with Longfellow (“Music is the universal language of mankind”) while ignoring Voltaire’s intemperate conclusion that “anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.” In being named to the Norton chair, Hancock joins such musical luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Igor Stravinsky.