Monday, April 25, 2016

"Oooowow!": the wonderful wordless phrasings of Amiri Baraka


"rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. . . tuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh" from "Black Art" by Amiri Baraka

"owwooooo owooooo" from "Kutoa Umoja" by Amiri Baraka

Wheeeeeeee" from "Am/Trak" by Amiri Baraka

"uuuuuuuuuu" from "Dope" by Amiri Baraka

"oooowow!" from "Dope" by Amiri Baraka

"oh wah wah
oh wah wah wah" from "Shazam Doowah" by Amiri Baraka

"(ahhhhhhhhhh!)" from "In Walked Bud" by Amiri Baraka

"Whooooooooooooooooooooo!" from "Somebody Blew up America" by Amiri Baraka
Listen: you'll be hard-pressed to find a major American poet who delves into the wonderful worlds of wordless phrasings more than Amiri Baraka. Nearly everywhere you look and listen in his work, you'll notice him projecting all these sound effects and various utterances. You still get his point.

Above, I've provided a small sample of what you see and hear in Baraka's work. And there's more. Much more. Before reading "Somebody Blew up America," Baraka would always hum Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso;" Baraka also interspersed that tune in his poem "Bang, Bang Outishly." Before and during his readings of his low coup poems, Baraka would hum Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco." Throughout his poem "In Walked Bud," Baraka would hum aspects of Monk's "In Walked Bud."

It's not uncommon, during the Q & A after a reading, for poets to say "I hear music in my head." The difference with Baraka is that he so often invites you to hear exactly what music he was referring to at the time. I remember back in 2004 at the Furious Flower conference, Baraka read a poem that I can't recall any words for, but I do distinctly remember he was humming Stevie Wonder's "All I do" during sections of the poem. 

There's little surprise that Baraka, who was deeply immersed in black music scenes for so much of his artistic life, would emulate the sounds of musicians in his poetry. Further, Baraka thoroughly embraced Black arts principles such as one of his collaborators, Larry Neal, urging black poets to avoid being "tied to the texts, like most white poets." All those wordless phrasings Baraka was inclined to make freed him from the texts and more broadly from the conventional restraints of the page.   

Amiri Baraka

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