Amiri Baraka

When researching the Black Arts Movement, it is virtually impossible to find a source that does not include the name Amiri Baraka. Baraka changed his name from LeRoi Jones after publishing Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing with Larry Neal in 1968.[1] He was a prosperous author, publishing a number of poems and plays along with other works. I'll be looking at some of his poetry and outlining it for you. Click here and here for links to his poetry and a biography.
Baraka's poetry was often conversational in style; when reading it, you feel like he's talking to you, asking questions, and making jokes. One of the poems I like best is "Monday in B-Flat."

"I can pray
all day
& God
wont come.

But if I call
The Devil
Be here

in a minute!"

I like the structure of the poem, and how it still feels joking while portraying a very serious sentiment. Baraka, and others of the time period, was highly suspicious of the intentions of the police, and wary of the police brutality that was very common. I think that he's also questioning faith here too. Baraka converted to Islam and then later became less religious, [2] which I think is reflected here, in his praying all day and not getting any response.

In another poem that I like, "A New Reality is Better than a New Movie!" Baraka indicts the system that keeps poor black men down and builds up rich white men. He questions how one can "survive with no money in a money world, of making the boss/100,000 for every 200/dollars/you get" and having to pay rent to his brother. This poem is more fierce than the one I mentioned above, though still humorous. Baraka suggests that the money you spend to buy a car goes to buying the salesman's wife a "foam rubber rhinestone set of boobies." Through the humor, though, his message of desperation is clear. Though the system is wrong, people are oppressed and treated horribly, he says "You don't like it? Whatcha/gonna do, about it??" Baraka's anger at the system and his hopelessness is apparent in this poem.

One of the most chilling poems that I read, "Incident," Baraka describes a killing. I'm not sure if he is referring to a specific murder, but I think that it would be a more powerful poem without a specific inspiration. Murders of black men and women, for no reason, and by an unnamed killer-or one who was let off by a jury- were all too common during Baraka's time, and this poem could be applied to a number of murders, I'm sure. This almost reminded me of Dylan's song about Medgar Evers, "Only a Pawn in Their Game," for it's similarity in social commentary, and for the murder (Evers was shot in front of his home by a shooter hidden in the bushes nearby).

Overall, the theme I noticed most in Baraka's poetry was a distrust of authorities. I think his poems do a beautiful job of conveying the dissatisfaction that black people, and other minorities, felt about the inequality of the time.

[1]"Amiri Baraka."
[2] Ibid.


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