My pop, Everett Hoagland, the former poet laureate of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was a good friend of the recently departed Poet and Activist Amiri Baraka. I asked my dad the other day: "How is Baraka's passing affecting you?" His answer follows, over the fold.
"How does the death of any good and influential friend affect anyone?
In addition to Amiri emailing me regularly, writing a blurb for my best book, commending my political poetry, introducing me to my audience at North America's biggest poetry festival, hosting me at his and his wife Amina's home four times, giving me dinner twice, meeting me for lunch, publishing me in his periodical Unity & Struggle, he was a profoundly influential mentor for me and so many "conscious" writers of my generation. As I wrote in the 2002 volume of the annual anthology The Best American Poetry (in which Amiri & I both had poems, mine, coincidentally, being a long praise poem about him):
For four (now five) decades his work has modeled not only what like-minded practitioners should write about but how it can be written. And what other American poet directly inspired a large number of people to actually re-envision themselves, redefine themselves, rename themselves, and name their children (as I named you, Kamal, my son) the way Baraka's poetry and prose did for the young Afrocentric African Americans of my generation during the late 1960's and the 1970's?
If Baraka had only written BLUES PEOPLE and DUTCHMAN, he would have been a significant twentieth century literary figure. But he has prolifically written and done so much more that is beautifully true to his vision(s), relevant -- indeed, revolutionary. And what other contemporary poet has made a more admirable, expert prose contribution to American music, musicology, and social/cultural criticism?
Baraka was not the sole creator of Black Cultural Nationalism or The Black Arts Movement. Consistent with the Nguzo Saba of The B.A.M.'s Kwanzaa, The B.A.M. itself was a collective accomplishment of many Brothers and Sisters. Though its most notable co-creators included Larry Neal, Askia Toure, Sarah Webster Fabio, Barbara Ann Teer, Kalamu Ya Salaam, Sonia Sanchez, Eugene Redmond, Haki Madhubuti. And least we forget, one of its two most and supportive publishers of poetry was Dudley Randall, a Brother of our parents' generation. But Baraka was the East Coast's chief priest and most prominent proponent of The B.A.M.
Since he rejected cultural chauvinism for a Marxist-Leninist world-view four decades ago, consistent with his beliefs, though class oriented, he remained Afrocentric in the ways that mattered. And he remained literally and literarily accessible to the people both in word and in person. No American poet in my lifetime has more actively pursued or lived according to his or her truths than Amiri Baraka. Indeed, his politics/ethics/poetic were all one. No contemporary poet more truly or better kept his or her word(s).