Amiri Baraka

Bad combinations

Flarf, Amiri Baraka, paranoia, and cultural memory

“Baraka suggests his duty is to act as a vatic vector of affective memory, which is necessarily messy and unreliable.” Adaptation of photo of Amiri Baraka, via Wikimedia Commons. Text: “Somebody Blew Up America.”

Could it be a coincidence — that two Flarf poems inspired by Amiri Baraka both contain the word “popsicle”? There is Benjamin Friedlander’s “Somebody Blew Up America” (2011), a response to Baraka’s poem of the same name: “if you leave your popsicle in the sun, / you have to expect the pages to get sticky. // It’s one of the reasons Lynne Cheney is careful with any book.”

Could it be a coincidence — that two Flarf poems inspired by Amiri Baraka both contain the word “popsicle”? There is Benjamin Friedlander’s “Somebody Blew Up America” (2011), a response to Baraka’s poem of the same name: “if you leave your popsicle in the sun, / you have to expect the pages to get sticky. // It’s one of the reasons Lynne Cheney is careful with any book.”[1] And Michael Magee’s “Mainstream Poetry” (2003) flarfifies Baraka’s “Black Art” through a series of Mad Libs-style deformations:

Amiri Baraka's 'Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . . .'

Cover of 'Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . . .'

Amiri Baraka’s Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . . . (1961) addresses writing in the context of suicidal fantasy. The title refers to a possible suicide note, one that emerges in concert with what may be a life’s work, manifested in twenty volumes. The voluminous, nearly encyclopedic note is projected into the future. “This is just the preface,” the title flirts. “Prefaces,” Derrida writes, “ [ … ] have always been written, it seems, in view of their own self-effacement.”

Amiri Baraka’s Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . . . (1961) addresses writing in the context of suicidal fantasy. The title refers to a possible suicide note, one that emerges in concert with what may be a life’s work, manifested in twenty volumes. The voluminous, nearly encyclopedic note is projected into the future. “This is just the preface,” the title flirts.

Something in the way (PoemTalk #126)

Amiri Baraka, 'Something in the Way of Things (In Town)'

From left: Aldon Nielsen, Tyrone Williams, and William J. Harris.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Tyrone Williams, Aldon Nielsen, and William J. Harris joined Al Filreis to talk before a live audience about Amiri Baraka’s poem “Something in the Way of Things (In Town).” The printed poem has been published in several versions; one version can be read below. It is best known as a cut on The Roots’ Phrenology album (2002). Baraka came to the lower Manhattan studio where The Roots were recording some of the album’s tracks; there Baraka performed the poem as the band backed him. The result can be heard here.

Words that bleed music

Postbop jazz in the poetry of Amiri Baraka and Nathaniel Mackey

Left: Nathaniel Mackey at Vision Festival, New York, 2015, courtesy of Nathaniel Mackey. Right: Amiri Baraka at the Malcom X Festival, San Antonio Park, Oakland, California, May 2007. Photo by David Sasaki via Wikimedia Commons.

In his preface to Blue Fasa (2015), Nathaniel Mackey reflects on what is arguably the key preoccupation in his oeuvre: the relationship between music and language. Mackey’s comments emerge out of a sense of disquiet with the way the two modes of communication are often presumed remote from the other by today’s artists and scholars.

The blackness of Holly Melgard's 'Black Friday'

One of the questions I want to ask given the failure of some recent so-called Conceptual poetry is, what are metaphors for the production and experience of black life that do not primarily reproduce the trauma of antiblack racism? What metaphors can be repurposed in the service of sustaining black life?

One of the questions I want to ask given the failure of some recent so-called Conceptual poetry is, what are metaphors for the production and experience of black life that do not primarily reproduce the trauma of antiblack racism? What metaphors, although historically part of the maintenance of white supremacy, can be repurposed in the service of sustaining black life? And how?

An interview with William J. Harris

PennSound podcast #49, with an introduction by Harris

William J. Harris with Susan Harris, 1969.

This interview tracks my genesis and early development as a poet and intellectual. My artistic and cultural education occurs during the late ’50s, the ’60s and the early ’70s and takes place primarily in and around academic institutions: the liberal college, Antioch, which is in my hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio, and the nearby black state university, Central State, in Wilberforce, and the story, if not exactly concluding, comes to “a momentary stay against confusion” at Stanford University in Northern California where I did my MA in creative writing and a PhD in English.

'Trouble Songs'

A musicological poetics

Trouble Songs: A Musicological Poetics is an investigation of the appearance of the word trouble in twentieth- and twenty-first-century music. It is a book-length project, comprised of three parts, each broken into modular chapters, or Trouble Songs, which build on one another as a series of albums, but are also intended as remixable and programmable singles. What follows is a compilation that spans those three parts.

First reading of Cecil Taylor's '#6.56' (4)

Gillian White

Well before I’ve clicked the audio file, the reading begins with the email invitation to (re)produce a “first reading” of a “spoken word” performance by Cecil Taylor. His name rings jazz bells, so I’m reading my mind, too. As a student of jazz vocals in Manhattan, I sat in with Reggie Workman, but didn’t feel free enough to accept the invitation to join his ensemble.

Engagement, race, and public poetry in America

Ansel Adams, “Roy Takeno at town hall meeting, Manzanar Relocation Center,” (courtesy the Library of Congress).

Has American poetry become more engaged with public events, more politically relevant, in the opening years of the twenty-first century? That is the claim made by The New American Poetry of Engagement, an anthology edited by Ann Keniston and Jeffrey Gray and published in 2012.[1]

The Motion of Light: Celebrating Samuel R. Delany

“The Motion of Light” is named for the Kelly Writers House celebration of Samuel R. Delany’s performative poetics, held on April 11, 2014, and archived at PennSound. This Jacket2 feature collects work by all those who were a part of the Delany celebration, of an event that celebrated the writer who, as Tracie Morris notes in her introduction, “is a constellation that continues to be fixed, yet revolves, for me and for so many lovers of poetry … a maker of many worlds.”

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