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They say it’s some terrorist poet, some old man in Newark who burned his lips on America. They say he one of those radical blacks with an A-Rab name, Amiri Baraka. They say he a suicide bomber blowing up poetry, a communist hatemonger, a beehive near a microphone, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a racist with a tongue of acid spitting on wedding cakes, a traitor raping our smiles.

They say (who say?) He was trouble. Flush him in the White House toilet so Obama can feel safe with his pants down. But who do the saying? Who taught us Who They is?
Who was born Everett Leroy Jones? Who was this man, spinning 400 years of slavery into a tornado of words?

Leroy Jones, a black boy who hated the mirror, hated his bulgy eyes, hated his skinniness, his small prick eaten by men. A boy & his fears, too short, too bi-sexual, too everything at once, the world exploding, held in place by pounding pianos, blowing trumpets as if to shoot the storm in his body out there, where rhythms laid it down.

Leroy Jones survived high school hunger games to college puppet show. Brain inside an ice cube. He saw Negroes jiving for whiteness, smiling to open the bank. Nothing fit. A roaring gasoline storm inside, a question threatening to ignite, he ran from college, ran from his name, Leroy became LeRoi, a man’s man.    

LeRoi in the Air Force, American corpse factory, shot guns, caressed Leftist books, felt his pulse in the words, evidence of an unknown self. Dishonorably discharged, he lived the West Village, a bohemian brothel of open love, bodies lit by strangeness, everyone hunting answers.

Searching the streets, LeRoi used liquor bottles as magnifying glasses for the soul. LeRoi who swung deep the Jazz in smoke thick mystery clubs. Fucked and was fucked by men. LeRoi who be a beat poet, beat poetry a Black eye that sees pain between the lines.

LeRoi who married white, married Jewish, married woman. Finally a man’s man. Sex could be aimed like a gun, two children hit the bulls-eye. Who tripped to liberated Cuba, dug the peasants standing on necks of Capitalist vampires. Burned by tragic revolutionary voices, LeRoi spat the ash of his name.

To be a Black Man. To Be a Problem. To Kill the Devil. To Be Born Inside a Hurricane.

LeRoi who swallowed the bullets from Malcolm X’s body and forgot how to speak without killing. Who burned his marriage on the Altar of Blackness and rubbed his face with its charcoal for camouflage!

Who moved to Harlem to make revolution! LeRoi whose mouth was a Jazz Gatling Gun! LeRoi who dreamt of race war!

LeRoi who smoked the rubble of Newark Riots and hallucinated a Black Nation! LeRoi who used a gun as a pen to write on the pages of history! Who played Double Dutch with slave chains and made House Negroes jump! jump! jump!

Who changed his name to Amear, so only his old self could hear his family weeping in the trashcan. Amear who rewrote himself as Amiri, Amiri Baraka, Arabic for Blessing, to heal minds bleached dead by America.

Who hated gays, who hated Jews, who hated who he had been, a man bending over, hated who he loved, his first children, bats crying in his skull. Who hated, hated, hated to love the night that never ended, the night his skin was — Amiri’s hands blind with fire.

Who tore pages of Marx’s Capital to bandage the light coming through the cracks in his mind?

Who saw the Movement recede, a tide leaving his books on the shore, who listened to sea shells for the voices of his slain friends?

Who lived into the New Millennium, an academic hobo, a revolution in a museum, a grinning wild man whose laughter cracked diamonds?

Who was hated by the privileged? Who was fired from his job? Who used the craters of U.S. bombs for his stage? Who rattled his tongue on the bars of prisons?

Amiri! Amiri the poet who sprinkled perfume on lava! Amiri the blind man who never saw the 4,000 shadows he cast in the Towers that fell, in the men who loved men, in the people cold in their whiteness, in the lost and confused and hurt. Amiri who forgot how to speak without killing.

Who cracked mirrors on the faces of our enemies, each shard a piece of the jigsaw puzzle of his unknown self!

Our Blessing, our Baraka, our triumph, our failure, Amiri who loved fire but not light, who did not open his eyes for fear of betraying the dark.

Amiri who wept at daughter killed, tears that never found a blank page to blossom, an invisible bouquet on her tombstone.

Whose son carries his father’s life toward the horizon, Amiri a father of millions of sons, millions of daughters. Amiri in history, Amiri in the Hall of Black Heroes.

Amiri died of diabetes, old and panting in the hospital feeling the final darkness swallowing him. Who felt the falling into Nothingness. Amiri whose last breath was an unfolding poem, ascending inside us.

Amiri who died a torch, a self burning flame!

Who will be Amiri again? Who is the Rage in the Street? Who will turn the Dictionary into a hornet’s nest? Whose mouth will be a Jazz Gatling Gun?

Like a volcano in your sleep, exploding in your life, in your brain, in yourself.  Who will make the Final Call to the dead! Who will write poems with dynamite! Who will shout questions that shatter our porcelain sex! Who will explode our fear!

Whooooo and Who and Whoooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Originally posted to Nicholas Powers on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 12:19 PM PST.

Also republished by Rebel Songwriters and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Yeah. I think good poetry has it's own (4+ / 0-)

    little explosion. BIG is OK too.

  •  When I heard Amiri had passed (13+ / 0-)

    The other day, I immediately went to you tube to listen to him read. There is a great one hour session in the Berkeley Lunch Poems series that he did back in 2007. In the intro, the announcer said he pissed off pretty much everyone during his life. He and his words were incendiary and provocative, profound and wise.

    Another of the Beats crosses the River. I don't know who will follow that tradition of Poet of the Political, artist as Activist. We sure could use a huge hoard of them.

    Thanks for your post, really great read aloud. It's got beat :)

    Let us arise and go now to where dogs do it Over the Hill where they keep the earthquakes ... It's time ~~ LF

    by cosmic debris on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 12:56:33 PM PST

    •  Fresh Air played an interview with him Friday (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mikejay611, doinaheckuvanutjob

      From 1986

      So he gave me an Arab name; he gave me the name Amir Barakat. But I didn't want an Arab name ... [so] I took the name and Swahili-ized it and Bantu-ized it, and changed it from Amir to Amiri and from Barakat to Baraka to make it a Swahili name — the same kind of name you'd find in Tanzania or Uganda or Kenya. Now, of course I'm no longer in a cultural nationalist movement, but I'd be the only one in my family with an American name.

      "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

      by Demi Moaned on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 04:57:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Lovely eulogy (13+ / 0-)

    You shadow and mirror the brilliant rage of the man's life, of the man himself.

    "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

    by DrLori on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 12:57:37 PM PST

  •  De-lurking to say (8+ / 0-)

    Thank you for this. It brought tears to my eyes.

  •  Tipped, recced and republished to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Munchkn, Creosote

    Rebel Songwriters.

    (I also took the liberty of adding "Poetry" to your tags.)

    Uh huh!

    Damn, that was good!
    Fitting tribute.

    I started with nothing and still have most of it left. - Seasick Steve

    by ruleoflaw on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 05:04:30 PM PST

  •  He was a powerful and skillful poet. BUT (7+ / 0-)

    ...he was a hateful and a violent-worded bigot even in old age. Would we tolerate and celebrate any other person who wrote such words?

    Sorry. My grandparents were herded out of the Ghetto and went up in smoke through a racist chimney. So as great a poet as he was, I have a very hard time reading "eulogies" for him.

    "So, am I right or what?"

    by itzik shpitzik on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 05:33:13 PM PST

    •  He was (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      He continued to advocate a separate Black nation. He worked with the Klan to achieve separation by violence. He argued (if "argue" is the word) that homosexuality is from "faggot" white blood. His was a world where there was a perpetual war of black and white. He was anti-pluralist.

      Everyone's innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 06:01:59 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Understanding... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      It is always amazing to me how the Jewish community will readily demonize any perceived anti-Semitic slight while employing descendants of the Middle Passage Holocaust. 6 million goes into 100 million how many times?

      No star is lost once we have seen, We always may be what we might have been. Adelaide Proctor -7.25/-5.64

      by mikejay611 on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 09:10:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  what are you talking about? n/t (0+ / 0-)

        Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

        by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 11:52:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Read the statement I replied to nt (0+ / 0-)

          No star is lost once we have seen, We always may be what we might have been. Adelaide Proctor -7.25/-5.64

          by mikejay611 on Mon Jan 13, 2014 at 03:27:57 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  what does (0+ / 0-)

            employing descendants of the Middle Passage Holocaust" refer to? I know what the Middle Passage was. What descendents have the Jewish community employed?

            Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

            by AaronInSanDiego on Mon Jan 13, 2014 at 07:27:29 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  are you just tying (0+ / 0-)

              argumentative? My grandmother and all her sisters worked as maids for European Jews... My grandmother and all my family on both sides are descendants of African slaves. If you know what the Middle Passage was then you know the exponentially more people were lost than Hitler killed.

              No star is lost once we have seen, We always may be what we might have been. Adelaide Proctor -7.25/-5.64

              by mikejay611 on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 05:33:44 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  no, I had no idea that you were referring to (0+ / 0-)

                people hiring black people as maids. I don't see how that's specific to the Jewish community, or why hiring black maids is worse than hiring people of other races maids. Your comments really do seem antisemitic to me.

                Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

                by AaronInSanDiego on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 06:42:00 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Which is exactly my point... (0+ / 0-)

                  One poster comments on a magnificent human being from our community that once a long time ago made mistakes. He corrected them long before he died, yet it was dredged up due to the never ending reminders that the Jewish community was/is marginalized. Yet no one, not even you Sir/Madam place even an iota of importance to the struggle of AA people. Then you deign to accuse me of antisemitism. Really?

                  No star is lost once we have seen, We always may be what we might have been. Adelaide Proctor -7.25/-5.64

                  by mikejay611 on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 07:51:53 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  It's not true that I (0+ / 0-)

                    place no importance on the struggle of AA people. You judge me based on a few comments, as you did with the parent comment. You bring up an issue that has no bearing on that comment and use guilt by association, that somehow because there have been Jews that have exploited African Americans, we as a community bear collective guilt.

                    Perhaps itzik invoking the Holocaust was a mistake. And maybe Amiri Baraka corrected his mistakes. I haven't seen evidence of that, but I admittedly don't know a lot about the man. Either way, that doesn't justify your comments, in my view.

                    Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

                    by AaronInSanDiego on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 09:30:49 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  On second thought, (0+ / 0-)

                    I don't think itzik was wrong in bringing up the Holocaust, given the content of some of Baraka's poems.

                    Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

                    by AaronInSanDiego on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 09:43:06 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Well (0+ / 0-)

                      as always on this site - we can agree to disagree, because I stand by my comments as I'm sure you do yours. Until there is true equality in this country, for all people, there is a need to speak on the struggles of the AA community, and I stand by that. I judged you on nothing sir. I responded to a comment by a poster whom I felt missed the totality of an amazing individual seeking to marginalize him with the distant past. I never acted your opinion or belittled it. Respect. Peace.

                      No star is lost once we have seen, We always may be what we might have been. Adelaide Proctor -7.25/-5.64

                      by mikejay611 on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 10:27:20 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I certainly agree with you that there is a need (0+ / 0-)

                        to speak on the struggles of the AA community. And I realize that there is much more to Baraka's work than disparaging comments about Jews. I don't see a zero sum game, where respecting Jewish sensitivity to antisemitism diminishes respect for the African American struggle. That appeared to be an implication of your comment, and that's one thing that bothered me about it.

                        Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

                        by AaronInSanDiego on Tue Jan 14, 2014 at 04:01:18 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  It often seems (0+ / 0-)

                          from this side of the coin, that sensitivity to Jewish antisemitism supersedes all other struggles, i.e. Baraka's disparaging comments about the Jewish community, and the time and context these comments were made in. The original poster never qualified his statements, nor made it clear that this was not the same person that made these statements. But the struggle for the AA community still continues. Not so much for the Jewish community if you'll pardon my taking liberties with the condition of said community: the Jewish community is doing a damned sight better that the AA community, yet no perceived slight goes unchallenged. Hence your seeing antisemitism in my defense of a prominent member of my community, when nothing could be further from the truth. Challenging slights from a position of power and strength is one thing. Challenging mistreatment which still being mistreated is quite another issue entirely.

                          No star is lost once we have seen, We always may be what we might have been. Adelaide Proctor -7.25/-5.64

                          by mikejay611 on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 07:06:00 AM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  which still being... (0+ / 0-)

                            s/b "while" - sorry for the typo...

                            No star is lost once we have seen, We always may be what we might have been. Adelaide Proctor -7.25/-5.64

                            by mikejay611 on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 07:07:25 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Your defense of a prominent member (0+ / 0-)

                            of your community is not a problem for me. But I think it's counterproductive to engage in comparing who's suffered more, and comparing the Holocaust to hundreds of years of slavery and its aftermath in the AA community. The Holocaust lasted 7 years, but antisemitism and discrimination against Jews went on for centuries before that. Its true that Jews as a group are doing relatively well now, while African Americans are not, and I don't believe that antisemitism trumps the struggles of the AA community. But I also don't believe that struggle justifies many of Baraka's expressed views about Jews and others, whether in his earlier writings, or in his poem after 9/11. And they are all still his words.

                            Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

                            by AaronInSanDiego on Fri Jan 17, 2014 at 08:59:51 AM PST

                            [ Parent ]

      •  "Perceived" anti-Semitic slight (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Was there a trouble "perceiv[ing]" what he meant when he accused "4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers" of advance knowledge of 9/11? Or was it when he so eloquently wrote, “I got the extermination blues, jew-boys. I got the Hitler syndrome figured… So come for the rent, jewboys, or come ask me for a book, or sit in the courts handing down your judgments still I got something for you, gonna give it to my brothers, so they’ll know what your whole story is, then one day, jewboys, we all, even my wig wearing mother gonna put it on you all at once," that we write off as merely "perceiv[ing]" anti-Semitism.

        Of course, when called on it, Baraka went the predictable route of claiming that he was being unfairly smeared as an anti-Semite for his anti-Zionism. Maybe you buy that, but I can't see why.

        Unapologetic Obama supporter.

        by Red Sox on Mon Jan 13, 2014 at 02:33:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  It was a privilege (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to be in his proximity.  They'll probably name a street for him in Newark, but the more time passes, the more Amiri will belong to the poets.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Sat Jan 11, 2014 at 05:50:27 PM PST

  •  YOW! (0+ / 0-)

    Woof woof!

    Couldn't be better. Thank you.

  •  Thanks for this powerful tribute. I haven't read.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    such a vivid rushing river of words since I was in college as an English major reading & writing poetry every day.
    I'm in the middle of reading a Washington Post article by Matt Schudel, published January 9, 2014 about his death.
    Here's an excerpt:

    In 1965, he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem, N.Y.,. which received funding from the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. When OEO Director R. Sargent Shriver Jr. tried to visit the cultural center, Mr. Baraka barred him at the door.

    “I don’t see anything wrong with hating white people,” Mr. Baraka told U.S. News & World Report at the time. “Harlem must be taken from the beast and gain its sovereignty as a black nation.”

    I share a birthday with John Lennon and Bo Obama.

    by peacestpete on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 01:58:35 PM PST

  •  Quintessential Amiri: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Dark and lonely on a summer's night.
    Kill my landlord. Kill my landlord.
    Watchdog barking. Do he bite?
    Kill my landlord. Kill my landlord.
    Slip in his window. Break his neck.
    Then his house I start to wreck.
    Got no reason. What the heck?
    Kill my landlord. Kill my landlord.
    K-i-L-L my land lord.


  •  Beautiful! (0+ / 0-)

    No star is lost once we have seen, We always may be what we might have been. Adelaide Proctor -7.25/-5.64

    by mikejay611 on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 09:03:18 PM PST

  •  Lovely eulogy (0+ / 0-)

    You've captured the cadence of his poetry in your prose. Thanks.

    “Parties do not lead revolutions. They follow them. And then only when forced to.” Joe Bageant

    by tgypsy on Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 09:04:17 PM PST

  •  Beautiful Tribute (0+ / 0-)

    Thank you!

  •  Wonderful Tribute (0+ / 0-)

    I had the pleasure of meeting Amiri Baraka at Naropa University's Summer Writing Program through the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in 2004.  It was two years after New Jersey abolished the State's Poet in Residence seat because it could not remove Baraka from his position as Poet in Residence and he, in true fashion, refused to resign.  Of course the controversy surrounded his explosive poem "Who Blew Up America" and it's line that Jews were warned to stay away.  Somewhere on the Naropa website there is a link to an audio recording from that week with him reading and discussing that poem and other recordings by Baraka.

    I saw him again a few years later at a reading at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco where someone asked him about the use of the "n" word by blacks.  His response was truly classic; I paraphrase: Blacks use the word as an antiseptic, we use it so that it no longer stings and to dilute its hurt.

    A remarkable man that was delightful to meet.

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