Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Amiri Baraka, the Black Arts & post Black Arts Poet

A couple of weeks ago when my students and I read and listened to poems by Amiri Baraka, I was reminded that Baraka is one of our greatest Black Arts and post Black Arts poets. On the one hand, he was a central figure in the formation and operations of black arts discourse. At the same time, in the decades after the late 1970s when the Black Arts Movement (as a distinct movement) began to decline, Baraka has remained productive and prolific, extending his work as a central literary artist.

The Baraka poems that we covered were composed and performed between the late 1970s and the early years of the 21st century. Listening to pieces like "Dope," "In Walked Bud," "I Love Music," a series of Baraka's low coup, "Jungle Jim Flunks His Screen Test," and "The Aesthetic," a strong case can be made that Baraka has gotten progressively better since the black arts era. He has certainly produced engaging and memorable pieces that highlight the possibilities of infusing music, politics, and humor in poems.

Anthologies typically attempt to freeze Baraka in the past, primarily representing him and his work with the poems he composed during the mid 1960s. Readers who do not venture beyond the standard classroom literature anthologies might be inclined to under-estimate Baraka's influence and appeal among large and diverse literary artists and audiences during the contemporary era.

In addition, the primarily print-based presentation of Baraka's work in those anthologies fail to capture the development and dynamism of his reading and performance styles. The page simply cannot adequately display Baraka's talent for using his voice as an instrument. 

In many respects, Baraka's contemporary productions can be viewed as innovations and extensions of his black arts era works. Perhaps more so than "post," his works represent a kind of trans or ongoing black arts poetry.

A Notebook on Amiri Baraka
A Notebook on the Black Arts Era

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