Friday, November 07, 2008


Hallelujah, wow ! wow !
Hallelujah, Wow ! Wow !

. everthing goan be different after we die
we aint goan be hungry, aint goan be pain
aint goan be sufferin, won't go through this again
after we die.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, wow ! wow !

Amiri Baraka - Dope

Found at bee mp3 search engine

This is a circa 1978 recording of Amiri Baraka reciting Dope.

Born in Newark New Jersey in 1934, 74 year old Baraka was the Poet of the Black power movement and one time Greenwich Village beat poet whose slave name was Lee Roi Jones, but which he changed upon becoming radicalised after Malcom X's assassination. When Baraka was New Jersey poet laureate in 2001, he caused a storm of outrage with his poem Somebody Blew Up America - written within a month of 9/11.


I first heard Dope in the final year of university when Robert Sheppard, the linguistically innovative poet who instigated and runs the writing degree at Edge Hill University in my home town, which i stumbled onto by accident, almost - brought in a set of recordings for us to listen to during the final semster of six, of a wholly Modern American Poetry course spanning three yrs.

One Friday afternoon in the NW of England, in a non-descript classroom with the seven or so on the final poetry module -- only three of whom had elected to be there by their own volition (Robert having to shang-hai three out of the heavily oversubscribed Short Story class on the first day in order to legally carry on) - we listened to the series of poems Sheppard had brought, two of which were by Baraka.

The first poem I heard Baraka read, was Black Dada Nihilismus from 1964, which i thought sounded like an inarticulate racist, and then Dope (link leads to download) - from his Revolutionary Marxist period during the Carter administration, and which i thought was as viscerally powerful and gripping to listen to, as Black Dada Nihilismus was not.

The 1964 recording struck me as the voice of an inarticualte man with a chip on his shoulder, but 12 or so years later, he had learnt his craft of live poetry, by plodding on, reading, writing, and non stop recital, and it is a tour de force damning of the whole American political process, as it was then, in relation to the rampant inequality black people were subjagated by.

. it can't be capatilism.

Jimmy Carter wouldn't lie,
you heard him at the state of union address
swearing on Rosalynn's face lift:

I wouldn't lie.

Nixon lied.
Haldeman lied.
Dean lied.

Hoover lied --- Hoover sucks too, but Jimmy don't
Jimmy wouldn't,
Jimmy aint lyin.

It must be the Devil, must be the devil
put your money on the plate
it must be the devil
in Heaven we'll all be straight.

It can't be Rockerfella
he gave Amis poot-booty a scholarship
to behaviour modification university
and Genivive almost-white works for his foundation.

It must be niggers.
It can't be Mellon, he gave Winky suck-ass
a fellowship in his bank
put him charge of closing out mortgages

in the low-life Pittsburgh Hill nigger section.
It can't be him,

Yes sir - Yes sir - Yes sir - Yes sir - Yes sir
yes sir - yes sir - yes sir - yes sr

put your money in the plate
don't be late, don't have to wait, all goan be in heaven after you die.


This is the link to a great and lengthy interview with Baraka from Black, in which he gives advice on writing.

Baraka studied philosophy and religion at Rutger's University, Columbia University and Howard University and left without obtaining a degree to join the US Air Force in 1954, from which he was dishonourably discharged for violating his oath of duty, at the rank of Sergeant - as a result of three anonymous letters to his C.O. accusing him of being a communist, lead to the discovery of Soviet writings in his possession.

But it was in the air force he did much of his early reading, as there was nothing much else to do, and it was here he was part of an informal self-educators reading group of young black men reading the classics for the first time and talking philosophy. But the one thing I got from reading the piece is that Baraka was very much aware of the responsibility he had been given through his upbringing, to stand fast and remember the history of black America.

When he was a child before the civil rights movement he recounts a story his grandmother told him as a boy, about a black boy who had had his genitals cut off and stuffed in his mouth after being accused of raping a white woman, and he rhetorically questions why she would tell him this at such a young age, and replies:

"Sweet little old lady from Alabama.... Why would she tell you that story? still got it in your mind, sixty years later, you still remember that story? -- "yeah, I remember it" -- in detail? --"absolutely" -- well that’s why she told it to you.

I don’t know if y'all still have that in your homes, I can’t speak on that, but I know that is what we as writers have to do, continue that tradition. The only way I can see that tradition being extended is through the role and function of the writer in the community."

And so Baraka obviously views his work as being part of a tradition greater than himself, the one singular person, and which I take as the main sign of his integrity as a poet.

Baraka ingested a lot of reading and created his own world view, which constantly changed over the course of time as a result of the changing social conditions, which to some extent his poetry brought about. So rather than being a poet reacting to circumstances he has no control over, Baraka actively seeks a poetry of impact. Poetry which will have an effect, and which comes out of his basic stance rooted in the little black boy from an educated family growing up in unfair times.

And his live power is a direct result of his sincerity, as he has steered his own course to a point of understanding where he is clear of his role and the historical foundations of poetry from which that role came.

. goan get all you need, once you gone. Yes sir - I heard it on the Jeffersons,
i heard it on the Rookies
i swallowed it home on Roost -yes sir !

wasn't it nice, wasn't Slavery nice
wasn't it so cool
and all you had to do was wear derbies
and dress and train chickens

and buy your way free if you had a mind to.
Must be the devil
it wasn't them white folks


He argues that poetry is nothing but music and rhythm. He thinks that "words fly on the rhythm" saying that the rhythm comes first, words second. I can relate to this, as there is a pre-verbal music and we can tune into it, and at the rarest alignment, the words fit not because of their properties of sense and meaning, but because no other words will. The sound is specific to such a degree only those explicit words link into what chain Shakespeare through the mask of Caliban has as - sweet sounds knitted together, and air which does not trouble or cause discomfort. And once s/he has the nack and know of how to do it, the words are not laboured over, but come on the fly, not consciously chosen - in a process of attuning our instinct by the vehicle of experience through practice, leading to what (if any) eloquence others may (or may not) discern, which connects or moves their inner music-world, as a result of our interior world outing in a fair semblance and accurate reflection from our pool of self-song sung sweetly flowing from one human being, to another.

Straight Criticism we learn at college, begins with treating a text as a non living body of words we intellectually dissect, cut apart and state the author wrote such a string to evoke a mood, make a point, link to some other part or stream of links in a chain flowing before us - and describing the reasons we think an author was impelled by, grasp the creational process which a text/poem arises out from. Created not wholly by reasoned intellect, but a mix of faith, surrender, cunning and trust in moments of satisfaction Heaney speaks of - that we have learned to recognise, instinctively, to yield our belief to that. And though others may look on in bewilderment, shaking their heads at the seemingly reasonless decisions our art impells us to take, at the end of the text, something of Art will appear and pass the finish line on only a hunch, hint, pre-verbal sense of knowing when to end, and a seemingly methodical laying out of words will be the result.

The smooth author's mind, as though the narrative had already been written and just needed excavating.

...lazy niggers, chain they-self and threw
their own black ass in the bottom of the boat.
Come to think of it, there was a certian king ass Bawaki to help throw yo ass in the bottom of the boat

your mama, your wife and you never seen them no more.
It musta been the devil.

Give me your money, put it here in this plate
heaven'll be here soon, you just gotta die
just gotta stop livin

close yer eyes, stop breathin and Bammo !
heaven'll be here.

Bammo ! you'll have all of what you need

a wow wow
Wow ! Wow !


Poet in Residence said...

that Baraka bard is a regular rap a daisy ranter

wordnerd7 said...

Des, here’s a marvellous passage in your completely engaging Baraka appreciation – . I wonder if you saw my mention of the absolute necessity of rhythm in poetry for me – on the hip-hop thread at GU last weekend.. . . It was just a throwaway remark by an outsider (non-poet) looking in – but reading this paragraph, it’s clear that it’s something only someone writing from the inside-out could give us . . . A marvel of a description . . .

=== He argues that poetry is nothing but music and rhythm. [. . .] ===