no nation but imagination

 

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“no nation but imagination” is a line from a Derek Walcott poem I was reading this morning. I like it. For the record, the poem is “The Schooner Flight.” It seems to be a bit of a miniature Omeros developing some of the same heroic/island themes in a narrative poem about an island sailor. Warning: if you happen to click on the above link, it’s a long poem. I’m just over half way through it.

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Eileen and I were invited to an evening meal in a parishioner’s home last night. The hostess was a very bright, articulate widow named Joan Smith now living on the banks of the Grand river in Grand Haven. Despite the fact that the rest of the group was made up of an elderly artsy quilt maker named Elizabeth and my boss, Rev Jen, I felt like I was holding my breath all evening, trying not to be intense or in Elizabeth’s words when i couldn’t find an adjective for Charles Bukowski,  ”gritty.”

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I still felt like I was inside a bubble, a Caucasian Episcopalian bubble. I find the talk of Billy Collins and Louis Erdich a bit off putting but managed to keep civil. When Elizabeth called PBS Judy Rudruff by her first name in a sympathetic comment my breath was taken away.

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When I mentioned Amiri Baraka and Derek Walcott, I wasn’t sure anyone in the room (besides Eileen who dislikes poetry) knew the names. Joan is a retired teacher. It felt almost like a betrayal on my part to mention these poets I so admire. I crawled back into their poems this morning. I’m not that far from finishing reading Baraka’s entire SOS: Poems 1961-2013. 

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I am reminded of Salmon Rushdie’s lovely ironic comment that “there’s not a better a career move than death” since I have a tendency to stumble onto writers by reading their obit. Such was the case with Walcott. Baraka is someone I have followed for years.

In the last few dark mornings before getting up my eyes have moved over poems by Dylan Thomas in an ebook, poems I know and love and still find mysterious and beautiful.

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At the Monday afternoon recital, an elderly woman asked me how I felt when I was able to finally play such a wonderful instrument as the Martin Pasi. I told her that I had been trained with this kind of instrument in mind, and though I had played mostly but not all crappy instruments in my jobs,  on the “inside” I heard the beauty.

Later I mused that this interior beauty was emerging a bit in the form of actual sounds waves originating in wind.

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Phlegm Manse street, Dunedin, wall of the Musicians club

footnotes and an observation

 

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Yesterday morning I was reading in the Cambridge Companion to Bach. I like reading in resources that are a bit more up to date like this one. There was a footnote in it referring to an article by the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff. The next morning I got up and pulled out my copy of his book and read the article. It was a timely one on Bach’s cantata based on “A Mighty Fortress.” It turns out that Bach did not envision this cantata quite as bombastic as it is sometimes performed. If you hear it with brass and timpani you are hearing a revision done by Willhelm his son after Bach himself died I believe.

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This appears to be a more update performance with three oboes. Lovely stuff.

Last night I was reading the book on slavery I have been reading, The Half Has Not Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist.

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I ran across another interesting footnote directing me to a chapter of “Notes on the State of Virginia” by Thomas Jefferson in his The American Library collection.

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This morning I got up and found the book and read the short chapter. When I went to make a note in the back I discovered that in my previous reading I had been compiling Jefferson’s references to slavery.

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In reading Baptist’s book, it occurs to me that living in the USA right now bears some similarity to the way the enslavers benefited relentlessly from the cruel use of slaves. Baptist makes a convincing argument that the mid 19th century world wide financial boom was based in large part on the backs of American slaves. Basically, the newly invented cotton gin could process as much raw cotton as could be produced. White men went crazy with greed and developed what amounted to systemic torture to make slaves (men, women and children) produce more and more picked cotton a day. The increase in raw product, largely sent to the mills in England to produce fabric that drove the early industrial revolution, was astronomical.

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So, the prosperity of the USA was in many ways built on the backs of tortured, maimed slaves whose lives were incredibly miserable.

Today,  many of us in white middle class  America live lives of prosperity. Especially when our amazing privilege is put in the context of the world. When Dr. Birky, my therapist, was interviewing me he asked me if I was “well off.” I replied that I was considering the global standard.

This is not claptrap. Where does our year long supply of fresh produce come from? It cannot originate inside our borders since the weather will not produce bananas or mangoes or what have you year round. Somewhere someone is growing and harvesting this food that it is so easy to take for granted. This is just a small instance.

I am well fed, clothed,  have a warm place to live, am safe in my daily life. These are unusual attributes for many humans on this planet. Inevitably, my access to food and housing and safety is based in part on the repression and terrible lives of other people.

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I think this might be the historical American way. And we are raised to be blind to this. We are living in a sci fi novel where our prosperity is directly the result of other people’s misery.

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The person whose recommendation I followed when looking up and beginning to read Edward Baptist’s book said she never looked are her life the same way afterwards. When she walked the streets everything looked different. Part of this must have been realizing how many of our daily lives could only exist the way does because of generations of tortured captive people. It’s not a big leap to realize this is still going on on a world wide scale if not within the “borders” of this country.

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