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Friday, August 26, 2011

Number 245: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) "Air"


I am lost in hot fits
of myself
to get
out. Lost
I am kinder
to myself
than I
than is good
for them.

What is it
about me
frightens me
tosses me helplessly
the air.

Oh love
don't leave
w/o me
that you
are the weakness
of my simplicity

Are feeling
& want
All need
& romance
I wd do anything
to be loved
& this
is a stupid

-- Amiri Baraka

Hap Notes: Amiri Baraka was born LeRoi Jones in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. He studied at Rutgers, Columbia and Howard universities and has taught at the State University of New York in both Stony Brook and Buffalo, Columbia and Rutgers. He changed his name in the 60's to reflect his own identity (rather than what he termed his "slave name"). He is is a powder keg of anger, frustration and heartache and his work testifies to this over and over again.

Baraka has always been a controversial figure in poetry, using verse as a powerful weapon to wake people up from sleep-walking through the culture. Poets who choose this route face a lot of threatening opposition and fear from their work and Baraka's career reflects this, too. I will refer you to his eye-opening poem written about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, "Somebody Blew Up America" here:

His somewhat militant Marxist views left him open to a lot of criticism from his zeal in his younger days; a zeal which has been honed to a sharp point as he matured as a poet. His poetry readings are riveting:

Baraka has been writing about Jazz, especially "Free Jazz", for more than 50 years and wrote the definitive book on it, Blues People: Negro Music in White America. He has performed both as a musician and with his poetry with Jazz ensembles. He has written more than a dozen poetry books, won an Obie award for his play, Dutchman, and has received an American Book Award and a Langston Hughes award, among others.

He continues to be a powder keg of explosive words and world-shattering ideas.

But in today's poem we see the soft side of the poet, frustrated by love and a crisis of self-identity, at cross purposes with his beneficent thoughts and longings for love. Some of Baraka's poems will startle you, some will make you think, some will fill you with shame but this poem, with all its vulnerability, just makes you want to give him a hug or a pat on the back, doesn't it? Most anger starts with heart-ache, does it not?

Here's a good Baraka quote: "Thought is more important than art. To revere art and have no understanding of the process that forces it into existence, is finally not even to understand what art is."

Here's his website:

You can find more Baraka here:

The masthead today is Jacob Lawrence's "Play".

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