Sunday, April 3, 2016
In Search of Amiri Baraka
Surprising. Funny. Razor-sharp. Militant. Far out. Musical. And that's just the poetry. Amiri Baraka produced a really amazing body of work. It's not just the quantity, which is important, but it's also the nature of the writings and his ability to be highly visible and out front over such a long period of time that made his poems matter in ways that is rare for a poetry, especially African American poetry.
The first Baraka book that I owned was The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader (1991) edited by William J. Harris. The Baraka Reader had me thinking about the overall arc of Baraka's career early on. And even then, Harris, one of my graduate school professors, was always noting that the Reader did not fully capture Baraka, who was still actively producing work.
Harris was the one who prompted me, since the beginning, to think about Baraka within and beyond his collections. We were talking about all the poems, the spectacular live readings and recordings, the short story collections, the plays, the essays, the music histories and criticism., plays, short story collections, and nonfiction.
My journeys with Baraka's work began all those years ago, and I've made all kinds of discoveries. But I'm still always searching, it seems, for Baraka. Always coming across something I didn't know, or always realizing I have to rethink some things.
By the time I got a hold of SOS: Poems 1961 - 2013 (2015) and the paperback version (2016), I had been studying Baraka for more than 15 years. I've nonetheless been re-reading and looking through those works and realizing that I'll need to continue my processes of locating the many facets of what Baraka produced.
• A Notebook on Amiri Baraka