It is the 9th anniversary of his passing.
Amiri Baraka was a revolutionary poet and playwright, best known for his contributions as founder of the Black Arts movement of the 60s and 70s, The New York Times reports. A sometimes-polarizing figure, Baraka’s poetry evolved over the years to reflect the times and his ever-changing ideals. He was a champion of the unheard and underserved, inextricably linking his political views to his poetry and prose. Over the course of his six-decade career, Baraka’s work continued to be hard hitting and thought provoking in nature, the beloved artist committing his life to his work with strict ideological adherence.
A native of Newark, he served as New Jersey’s poet laureate and received numerous awards over the course of his lifetime, including the Obie Award for the 1964 Off-Broadway production “Dutchman,” the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He also served as an academic professor at a number of prestigious institutions, including Rutgers, Columbia, Yale and Stony Brook University where he served as emeritus professor of Africana studies until his death.
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He passed away on January 9, 2014 at the age of 79, leaving behind an indelible mark and a lifetime of work to dissect and learn from. In homage of Baraka’s contributions and in observance of the 9th anniversary of his passing, here are 5 must-read poems by Amiri Baraka that will change your outlook on life forever:
In Memory of Radio
Who has ever stopped to think of the divinity of Lamont Cranston?
(Only Jack Kerouac, that I know of: & me.
The rest of you probably had on WCBS and Kate Smith,
Or something equally unattractive.)
What can I say?
It is better to have loved and lost
Than to put linoleum in your living rooms?
Am I a sage or something?
Mandrake’s hypnotic gesture of the week?
(Remember, I do not have the healing powers of Oral Roberts…
I cannot, like F. J. Sheen, tell you how to get saved & rich!
I cannot even order you to the gas chamber satori like Hitler or Goddy Knight)
& love is an evil word.
Turn it backwards/see, see what I mean?
An evol word. & besides
who understands it?
I certainly wouldn’t like to go out on that kind of limb.
Saturday mornings we listened to the Red Lantern & his undersea folk.
At 11, Let’s Pretend
& we did
& I, the poet, still do. Thank God!
What was it he used to say (after the transformation when he was safe
& invisible & the unbelievers couldn’t throw stones?) ‘Heh, heh, heh.
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.’
O, yes he does
O, yes he does
An evil word it is,
First, feel, then feel, then
read, or read, then feel, then
fall, or stand, where you
already are. Think
of your self, and the other
selves . . . think
of your parents, your mothers
and sisters, your bentslick
father, then feel, or
fall, on your knees
if nothing else will move you,
and look deeply
into all matters
come close to you
Make some muscle
in your head, but
use the muscle
in yr heart
Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
for Kellie Jones, born 16 May 1959
Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…
Things have come to that.
And now, each night I count the stars,
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.
Nobody sings anymore.
And then last night, I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into
Her own clasped hands.
A closed window looks down
on a dirty courtyard, and black people
call across or scream or walk across
defying physics in the stream of their will
Our world is full of sound
Our world is more lovely than anyone’s
tho we suffer, and kill each other
and sometimes fail to walk the air
We are beautiful people
with african imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with african eyes, and noses, and arms,
though we sprawl in grey chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.
We have been captured,
brothers. And we labor
to make our getaway, into
the ancient image, into a new
correspondence with ourselves
and our black family. We read magic
now we need the spells, to rise up
return, destroy, and create. What will be
the sacred words?
As A Possible Lover
silence, the way of wind
in early lull. Cold morning
to night, we go so
to ourselves. (Enough
to have thought
finishes it. What
you are, will have
no certainty, or
end. That you will
stay, where you are,
a human gentle wisp
of life. Ah…)
as a virtue. A single
what you have
Blessings to the spirit and legacy of Amiri Baraka. Because of him, we can!
5 must-read poems by Amiri Baraka that will change your outlook on life forever. Amiri Baraka, May 1970. Photo Courtesy of Eddie Hausner/The New York Times