The Poetry Foundation reports that Amiri Baraka, once known as Leroi Jones, has died in Newark, New Jersey. Here‘s a succinct summary of his work and political action. It notes that:
[Mr.] Baraka’s legacy as a major poet of the second half of the 20th century remains matched by his importance as a cultural and political leader. His influence on younger writers has been significant and widespread, and as a leader of the Black Arts movement of the 1960s[, Mr.] Baraka did much to define and support black literature’s mission into the next century. His experimental fiction of the 1960s is considered some of the most significant African-American fiction since that of Jean Toomer. Writers from other ethnic groups have credited [Mr.] Baraka with opening “tightly guarded doors” in the white publishing establishment, noted Maurice Kenney in Amiri Baraka: The Kaleidoscopic Torch, who added: “We’d all still be waiting the invitation from the New Yorker without him. He taught us how to claim it and take it.”
He served as New Jersey’s poet laureate until a poem that he wrote in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 was seen as anti-Semetic and New Jersey, shamefully, eliminated the position of poet laureate.
Sometimes when my life has felt out of control, I’ve called out his lines: “How’d I get here on my back, in the dark, with the wind and water blowing through my ears?” Thank you, Mr. Baraka, for helping me, more than once, to get up, in the dark, to ignore the wind and water blowing through my ears, and to get back my own language, statues, instruments, and oom-boo-ba-boom. You were always on my short list of people I’d love to have to dinner.
In Mr. Baraka’s memory, here’s his poem, 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 haved 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 gaschamber 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,