Amiri Baraka, 1934-2014
Belated posting of a Letter to the Editor that will never be published, written in response to a response to the death of Amiri Baraka.
Dear Philadelphia Weekly:
Re: “In Memoriam: Amiri Baraka,” I was lucky enough to hear Amiri Baraka in person once, on his Transbluesency book tour at Borders Rittenhouse Square in 1996 or so, back when Borders was still somewhat “out there” and not trying to compete with Barnes & Noble (bookstores for people who don’t read books). I almost heard him twice, but got lost on the way to the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival in Hillsborough, NJ in 2002 and showed up about a week and a half late. (“There is a field. I’ll meet you there,” read the Rumi quote on the festival posters. It didn’t say when.)
Of course Nia Ngina Meeks’s eulogy-by-way-of-elegy was most welcome, but we read so much about why poets and poetry are wrongly mocked, rejected, and rendered obsolete and stereotypical that it would have been worth actually quoting from Baraka’s poems themselves, not just other poets-authors-sympathetic types defending him for writing, thinking, and breathing.
What about “Black Dada Nihilismus” (For tambo, willie best, dubois, patrice, mantan, the bronze buckaroos./For Jack Johnson, asbestos, tonto, buckwheat, billie holiday), famously (though not famously enough) updated with DJ Spooky? Or The real terror of nature is humanity enraged, the true technicolor spectacle that hollywood cant record. They cant even show you how you look when you go to work, or when you come back (from “A New Reality Is Better Than a New Movie!”)? Or how about not just mentioning the controversy but quoting real words from “Somebody Blew Up America” (an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, anti-Nazi poem, not “Amiri Baraka’s anti-semitic poem”), e.g. Who got the tar, who got the feathers/Who had the match, who set the fires/Who killed and hired/Who say they God & still be the Devil? Or “Numbers, Letters” (I cant say who I am/unless you agree I’m real), or even “Hymn for Lanie Poo” (Each morning I go down to Gansevoort St. and stand on the docks. I stare out at the horizon until it gets up and comes to embrace me. I make believe it is my father. This is know as genealogy“)?
Bonus points, though, for noting that LeRoi Jones was once a Beat (to the degree that anyone was actually a Beat).