Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)



Amiri Baraka (born October 7, 1934), formerly known as LeRoi Jones

Perhaps the most influential African American poet of the last half of the twentieth century, Amiri Baraka helped define the Beat generation and served as a guide for the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s. Baraka’s work is simultaneously introspective and public; his combination of unrhymed open forms, African American vernacular speech, and allusions to American popular culture produces poems that express Baraka’s personal background while addressing political issues. Baraka’s poetry draws upon the poetic techniques of William Carlos Williams and Charles Olson, and upon traditional oratory, ranging from the African American church to streetcorner rapping.
Baraka has divided his work into three periods: his association with the Beats (1957-1963), a militant Black Nationalist period (1965-1974), and, after 1975, an adherence to Marxism and Third World anticolonial politics. These periods are marked by changes in the poet’s ideology but not in his poetic style. Early poems such as “Hymn to Lanie Poo”—focusing on tension between middle-class and poor black people—and “Notes for a Speech” consider whether or not African Americans have a genuine ethnic identity and culture of their own as opposed to a segregated existence that only mirrors white America. This theme receives more attention in poems of the 1960’s such as “Poem for Willie Best” and “Poem for HalfWhite College Students” which indict Hollywood stereotypes. Another collection, Transbluesency: Selected Poems (1961-1995), represents Baraka’s work since 1979.
Poems of the Black Nationalist period address questions of the poet’s personal and racial identity. The poems of this period suggest that poetry itself is a means of creating individual and communal identity. In “Numbers, Letters” Baraka writes: “I cant be anything I’m not/ Except these words pretend/ to life not yet explained.” Explicitly political poems, such as “The Nation Is Like Ourselves,” propose that each person’s efforts or failings collectively amount to a community’s character. After 1975, poems such as “In the Tradition” argue—with some consistency with Baraka’s earlier views—that although Marxism is the means to political progress, only an art of the people that insists on showing that “the universal/ is the entire collection/ of particulars” will prepare people to work toward a better future. “In the Tradition” and a later series titled “Why’s” present musicians and political leaders as equally powerful cultural activists, reinforcing Baraka’s idea that poetry is a force for change.


Wise I


    WHYS (Nobody Knows
    The Trouble I Seen)
    
Traditional

If you ever find
yourself, some where
lost and surrounded
by enemies
who won't let you
speak in your own language
who destroy your statues
& instruments, who ban
your omm bomm ba boom
then you are in trouble
deep trouble
they ban your
own boom ba boom
you in deep deep
trouble

humph!

probably take you several hundred years
to get 
out!

The New World

The sun is folding, cars stall and rise
beyond the window. The workmen leave
the street to the bums and painters’ wives
pushing their babies home. Those who realize   
how fitful and indecent consciousness is
stare solemnly out on the emptying street.
The mourners and soft singers. The liars,
and seekers after ridiculous righteousness. All   
my doubles, and friends, whose mistakes cannot   
be duplicated by machines, and this is all of our   
arrogance. Being broke or broken, dribbling   
at the eyes. Wasted lyricists, and men
who have seen their dreams come true, only seconds   
after they knew those dreams to be horrible conceits   
and plastic fantasies of gesture and extension,
shoulders, hair and tongues distributing misinformation   
about the nature of understanding. No one is that simple   
or priggish, to be alone out of spite and grown strong   
in its practice, mystics in two-pants suits. Our style,   
and discipline, controlling the method of knowledge.   
Beatniks, like Bohemians, go calmly out of style. And boys   
are dying in Mexico, who did not get the word.   
The lateness of their fabrication: mark their holes   
with filthy needles. The lust of the world. This will not
be news. The simple damning lust,
                                       float flat magic in low changing   
                                       evenings. Shiver your hands
                                       in dance. Empty all of me for
                                       knowing, and will the danger   
                                       of identification,

                           Let me sit and go blind in my dreaming   
                           and be that dream in purpose and device.

                           A fantasy of defeat, a strong strong man   
                           older, but no wiser than the defect of love.

Like Rousseau

She stands beside me, stands away,   
the vague indifference
of her dreams. Dreaming, to go on,   
and go on there, like animals fleeing   
the rise of the earth. But standing   
intangible, my lust a worked anger
a sweating close covering, for the crudely salty soul.

Then back off, and where you go? Box of words   
and pictures. Steel balloons tied to our mouths.   
The room fills up, and the house. Street tilts.   
City slides, and buildings slide into the river.   
What is there left, to destroy? That is not close,   
or closer. Leaning away in the angle of language.   
Pumping and pumping, all our eyes criss cross
and flash. It is the lovers pulling down empty structures.   
They wait and touch and watch their dreams   
eat the morning.

A Poem for Speculative Hipsters

He had got, finally, 
to the forest 
of motives. There were no 
owls, or hunters. No Connie Chatterleys 
resting beautifully 
on their backs, having casually 
brought socialism 
to England. 
     Only ideas, 
and their opposites 
         Like, 
     he was really 
     nowhere.