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Some Words and their Innuendos

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Warning: This post gets political.  As we approach July 4, a couple of words have struck me with unusual force.

July 4 Parade, 2013

July 4 Parade, 2013

“Democracy and capitalism have both been hacked.”  Al Gore writes this in The Future, his current book.  I realize it is the first time I’ve seen “hacked” in serious writing without reference to computers.  So the elites who, whether from greed or ignorance, want to preserve the status quo are “hackers”?

Dictionary.com gives the original meaning of “to hack” as “to cut, notch, slice, chop, or sever (something) with or as with heavy, irregular blows.”  From this, it is clear that computer hackers were seen as cutting or chopping into (or breaking and entering) computer files.

The statement about democracy and capitalism, then, seems to mean that certain parties are bent on destroying the very structures that have made it possible for them to get where they are.  Like Jack, cutting off the beanstalk from above.  Being in the clouds may distort the perspective.

The second word example is a pair of words.  The word “iniquity” appeared in one of today’s scripture readings; it was a passage from that difficult book , the Letter to the Romans.  The reader did not pronounce the word quite clearly enough: it came to my ear as “inequity.”  What a difference a single vowel makes!  It turns out, however, that while “iniquity” is taken usually to mean wrong-doing, and “inequity” has to do with a lack of equality, both go back to the same root―Latin for not equal―and the base meaning for both is a lack of fairness.

Many of us, especially those in the middle or at the bottom economically, know that structural inequity is iniquitous. How could one make that vivid to those who have not been paying attention?

And how do you stop hackers who are supported by the Supreme Court?

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Happy “Exelauno” Day

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Exelauno is a good Greek word that one learns in first year Greek, reading Xenophon’s Anabasis, which chronicles the march into Asia and back of Greek armies under Cyrus in 401 B.C.E.  The text is richly redundant as the troops march on and on, day after day.  On March fourth, I celebrate my first year Greek class of many years ago:

March Fo(u)rth

Chill morning, mud season in
Massachusetts, not winter, not
spring. Freshman Greek class
starts precisely at 8 a.m. We
trudge with Xenophon’s army,
up from the coast, a day’s march
forty stadia or two pages,
as many as forty new words.

This morning, Peggy trudges
down from the dorm, up into
Sever Hall, salutes her classmates
with “Happy ‘exelauno’ day!”
savors the “Huh? oh!” as they
catch on, pick up her banner,
a signal marking our progress
across Asia, toward spring break.

March fourth as ‘march forth’ day:
Peggy’s pun assures us we will
conquer Xenophon’s long march,
survive our own, gives us
laughter and one Greek word
we’ll always remember.

I noticed as I typed this in that it is in proper Pindaric form: two equal sections as strophe and antistrophe and a shorter conclusion (epode).  Pindar wrote odes in honor of Greek athletes.  This poem is an encomium (poem of praise) for Peggy DeBeers Brown.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Ingersoll!

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Robert Green Ingersoll was born August 11, 1833, in New York State.  His father was a minister whose calling meant that the family moved frequently to different places.  Robert’s mother died when he was young, leaving two older sisters to “mother” him.

After service in the Civil War, which earned him the nickname “Colonel Bob,” Ingersoll became a successful lawyer, first in Peoria, Illinois, later in Washington, DC and then in New York City.  He first came to national attention as a speaker in 1876 when he made the nomination speech for James G. Blaine at the Republican National Convention.  Blaine lost out to Rutherford B. Hayes, but Ingersoll’s fame as a speaker was set.

Although he was involved with some headline trials, and gave many speeches in support of Republican candidates, Ingersoll’s real contribution to society was in his effort to bring reason to bear on the religious doctrines that flourished in his day.  Ingersoll’s father’s faith had been Calvinist, believing in the fallenness of humanity and God’s election of certain persons while condemning others to an eternal hell.  This strict orthodoxy was being challenged by the time Ingersoll began speaking out, as the churches struggled with developments in science, Biblical criticism, and other research.  In spite of the growing questions, an orthodoxy that focused on the hope of heaven and the fear of hell dominated popular thinking in the second half of the nineteenth century.

A lecture called “What Must We Do To Be Saved” was one of Ingersoll’s successful and repeated challenges to orthodox Christianity.  In this lecture, Ingersoll uses a review of the gospels in the New Testament to make his case.

He focuses first on the Gospel of Matthew.  He finds there the beatitudes (“Blessed are the merciful . . .”), the explanation of the Lord’s Prayer (“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.”), and several other passages which support the idea that it is right behavior, not belief, that God asks of us.  Given the current state of Biblical criticism, however, he felt free to mark as an interpolation anything that did not fit with this developing picture.

Ingersoll went on to review the Gospel of Mark, where he found one text he found offensive; current Biblical scholarship agrees that it is a late addition.  The King James Version of the Bible includes without question the ending to Mark now seen as a pastiche of later interpretation, which includes the statement: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

Dismissing this selection as interpolation, Ingersoll finds Mark and also Luke basically in agreement with Matthew.  He dismisses the whole Gospel of John as written not by those who knew Jesus, but “by the church” and therefore not relevant to his argument.   From this survey Ingersoll concludes that the God of Jesus is merciful to those who show mercy, forgives those who forgive, operates according to the Golden Rule, and would in no circumstances send anyone to everlasting suffering in hell.  He closes the lecture by saying:

The honest man, the good woman, the happy child, have nothing to fear, either in this world or the world to come.
Upon that rock I stand.

“What Must We Do To Be Saved” is one of Ingersoll’s more gentle attacks on orthodoxy.  Sometimes he enlivened it with an introduction on the horrible deeds ascribed to the deity in the Old Testament.  In other lectures he focused on the books of Moses or on the crimes of the church in medieval times.  As he became better known he could expect to fill the largest hall in every city he visited.  He did not always speak on these issues.  People were eager to hear him on topics like Shakespeare, Robert Burns or Lincoln as well.

Ingersoll quickly became a favorite of freethinkers around the country.  He was giving popular credence to their claims and ideas.  After he died in 1899, one follower called Ingersoll “a prophet of the future, the light-bringing herald of the dawn.”  Ingersoll was placed alongside Thomas Paine as a second American freethought hero.

He’s one of my heroes because he did wonderful things with language.  His lectures are fun to read, with their rolling phrases and sly jabs.

For a full description of Ingersoll’s life and lectures, I recommend Frank Smith, Robert G. Ingersoll: A Life (Prometheus, 1990).

Word Play: Ramke’s and Mine

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 Bin Ramke’s poems are not easy reading, but I find them fascinating in their particulars.  In “Tendrils” (Theory of Mind: New & Selected Poems, p. 191), he writes:

“Replicate” can be pronounced several different ways―one of these, as an adjective, can refer to an insect wing folded back on itself.  From the Latin plicare, to fold, also replicare, to unfold or to reply.  An answer as an unfolding.  To speak, for instance, to a figure with wings, and then to see the wings begin to unfold, as your answer.  As in, “I love you,” and she unfolds her wings to leave you.

Mid-paragraph I get up to check my own dictionaries, Latin and Oxford English. My dictionary says the Latin verb can also mean unrolling.  What’s the difference between a fold and a roll, I wonder.

Replica comes from the same root: a copy.  So that replicate is also to make a copy of.  Making copies is in Ramke’s poem too.  But I am stuck on folding, unfolding, and why isn’t it also refolding–folding again?

Making a copy neither unfolds nor answers.  Poems do not copy, nor do they give answers.  Poems unfold, but if I said “this poem replicates” you would be thoroughly confused, thus demonstrating that “replicate” no longer carries this third meaning.

This is no way to read a poem; I forget entirely what came before and so am unprepared to pick up the poem after this definitive interruption. (Rupture= break: erupt, disrupt, interrupt).  Is this Ramke’s fault?  I’m the one who went for the dictionary.

The “she” who unfolds her insect wings.  Why does she matter to him?  He doesn’t say.  His language hides her in its many folds.

Language will not stay still.

One New Mexico Poet

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Levi Romero is the New Mexico Centennial Poet.  This means he is making a lot of presentations.  One of them was at NMSU in Las Cruces recently.  He read from his collection, <i>A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works</i>.

A poet who is willing to subtitle a collection “New and Rejected Works” certainly gets my attention.  It turns out this subtitle is also the title for a poem, which is placed as part of a section on lowriding, the passion of the young men Romero grew up with in Northern New Mexico.  Many of the poems describe the world of Romero’s youth, others focus on family and on community that hasn’t disappeared but is at risk.  The second and last poems in the book describe Romero’s visits to his mother in a nursing home; both are about telling stories, listening to stories and passing them on.

Some of the poems are in Spanish, and some mingle Spanish and English.  My bit of Spanish could get many of the pieces, but not the whole poems.  In his presentation Romero explained that he uses the mixed dialect of his northern New Mexico region.

August and fall seem to predominate in these poems, suggesting all that is passing or has passed as Romero moves into his own elder years.  He is well aware of the unreliability of stories also, as indicated in this section from “Most Skin Hits Road”:

our own histories
who we are
where we come from

could be reinvented
in the next sentence uttered
the next clever line spoken
the next interjection of humor and
sincere display of pleasantries
masking over the face of a new persona

and further answers to all possible questions
made more believable
than the reality of our own true selves
our leaking faucets, ragged lawns
oil stained driveways, two nights of dinner dishes . . .

Romero makes the reader welcome in his story-filled, ambiguous and basically cheerful world.  I recommend this book as an introduction both to an unusual subculture and to a writer who accepts and honors the layers of complexity in contemporary life.

Poems describing more of the many cultures and landscapes of New Mexico can be found at http://200newmexicopoems.wordpress.com/