“All this pain is necessary”: Amiri Baraka’s SOS: Poems 1961-2013

My review of SOS: Poems, 1961-2013 can be read in full at ArtsATL.

"In mostly white classrooms at many universities, Amiri Baraka’s poems are assigned in brief, dramatic portions. This, at least, was my experience. A student might read “Black Art,” a poem that agitates easy classroom conversations about what a poem can say, want and do with its vivid amplification of a black united front in the wake of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The poems in Baraka’s first collection, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961), present a teachable narrative of dissatisfaction and resistance to the white hegemony of the American poetry scene, whether Beat, Black Mountain, Bay Area or New York School. A teacher might explain that Baraka left his white, Jewish wife and moved to Harlem in 1965, abandoning the name LeRoi Jones and organizing the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School. The conversation might end by mentioning that Baraka’s term as Poet Laureate of New Jersey was cut short after his poem about 9/11, “Somebody Blew Up America,” was accused of being anti-Semitic. For the most part, these are the institutionally sanctioned touchstones of Baraka’s influence on American poetry."