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The Immeasurable Sun Ra

Sun Ra

Sun Ra’s passion for words was no secret. His mythic lyrics played a huge role in his music, and his aphoristic proclamations (“History is his story; my story is mystery!”) are still quoted frequently. But he was also an extremely prolific poet. Between 1972 and 1995, over 20 editions of his poetry were published, many under the title The Immeasurable Equation. In the late ’90s, Ra scholar James Wolf set out to collect and transcribe this sprawling oeuvre, with the help of submissions from around the globe. Wolf and German Ra historian Hartmut Geerken have published the results as The Immeasurable Equation: The Collected Poetry and Prose, through Geerken’s Waitawhile imprint.

“What’s so striking is the consistency of Sun Ra’s anti-poetical style,” Wolf says. “He was trying to do something different with these poems, not aiming to write ordinary poetry at all.” Ra’s verse covers many of the same concerns as his songs–fate, the future, nature and the Cosmos–but his approach is markedly different. Where Ra’s lyrics were often short and simple, his poems are less concrete. Philosophical musings and ethereal abstractions take the place of traditional poetic symbols and imagery. “Often his approach when he’s describing something is to talk about what it is not,” Wolf says. “He was very concerned about reversing and undoing oppositions, and he often expressed his philosophy in roundabout or sideways terms.”

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