I know that the book that I am writing about today is not by a local author. However, I believe that it is also important to utilize this space to write about books that have had an impact on me in terms of expanding my social consciousness, awareness, and understanding of the world in which I have lived my whole life. One such book is New Orleans Blues by Marty Most.
Let me begin by stating that I have finally come to the realization that my life has been lived in a kind of bubble, and that I am indeed a product of white privilege. I lived most of my life as the most privileged of all—a white, upper middle-class male. Now that I have taken a step down on the ladder of privilege and become a woman, I have noticed some subtle differences in the way that I am treated. However, I am still white, and I cannot even begin to know what it means to be a person of color, but this book gave me an opportunity to briefly step into their story.
I like to surf eBay for items of interest, particularly records and books. On one such surfing expedition, I was drawn to New Orleans Blues by Marty Most, probably due to its jazz motifs. My first attempt to buy the book failed, but I was soon able to successfully find and purchase another copy.
I had never heard of Marty Most, so I had to do some research. According to the Internet, “Marty Most, Jazz Poet” is really Dr. Maurice M. Martinez, Ph.D., a New Orleans-born poet, photographer, musician, filmmaker, host, narrator, and Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. A protégé of Langston Hughes, Dr. Martinez is credited as being the first Beat Poet in New Orleans. His poetry and jazz performances in concerts and club dates voiced the human condition in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. New Orleans Blues was written in 1964, and at one time, my copy had been the property of the New Orleans Jazz Museum. In addition to the poems, it also includes photographs by the author.
The six lines of the very first poem in the book entitled “How” impacted me in a way that I cannot really explain, but it showed me more than anything else that I have ever read, seen, or heard what it really means to be a person of color in America:
To be born dark in a world of light
To be born black in a world of white
To Be suppressed for no other reason than
Being dark in a world of light.
How then to exist?
How, dark man, do you exist?
Ironically, when I mentioned in a discussion group on the book White Fragility the influence that this poem and the lyrics to the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit” had on me in terms of understanding racial inequality, I was reprimanded by a minister no less and told that I should “Listen more and rely less on poetry and lyrics.” I did not return to the group after that, and my response to this minister is that we learn and are impacted emotionally and intellectually by hearing something in a format that speaks to us in a way that nothing else does. For me, it is poetry and music, and it seems like I am always searching for unique and interesting and sometimes even Avant Garde music and literature that will challenge me, take me outside of my comfort zone, and give me the opportunity to expand my thinking and to grow.
Barbara Marie Minney is a transgender woman, poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist. She is a retired attorney and originally from West Virginia. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and the Akron Beacon Journal Best Northeast Ohio Books 2020. It is available at www.poetryislifepublishig.com. Follow her at www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com.