[By William J. Harris]
“If my letter re your poem sounded crusader and
contentious I’m sorry. But I have gone deep, and gotten caught with images of
the world, that exists, or that will be here after we go. I have not the
exquisite objectivity of circumstance. The calm precise mind of Luxury. . . . I
can’t sleep. And I do not believe in all this relative shit. There is a right
and a wrong. A good and a bad. And it’s up to me, you, all of the so called
minds, to find out. It is only knowledge of things that will bring this ‘moral
the great poet, Amiri Baraka’s funeral will be on this Saturday, January 18 in
Newark. It is hard to believe he has left us so soon. Each time I saw him he
was so alive and vital, especially in performance. He was a fighter and an
artist to the end.
Since the mainstream never understood Baraka, it surprises
me that there has been such a mainstream response to Amiri’s death, including
the front page of “The New York Times.” It seems like they realized something
important had happened whether they understood it or not. But what really
heartens me is the insightful comments by such people as Ishmael Reed,
Questlove, Greg Tate and Richard Brody and in such strange places as “Ebony,”
“The New Yorker,” and “The Wall Street Journal.” And Ish Reed is right,
the mainstream has ignored all the great work after the Sixties. In spite of
the narrow-minded dumbness that has been floating around about Baraka, he has
made his mark on the minds of our time.
artist in many areas, including poetry, music criticism, the novel and
nonfiction. But I want to talk about him as an anti-colonial writer, a man who
wanted to see the world from his point of view and not the master’s.
Perhaps this is on my mind because I am just back from India. But what I have
always loved about Amiri was his superiority (we were supposed to be the
inferior ones, not them) to the white power structure or any power structure.
In short, he was doing the judging, not them.
Baraka’s project, we need to revisit W. B. Du Bois’s famous concept of the
double consciousness. Du Bois: “It is a peculiar sensation, this
double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the
eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in
amused contempt and pity.” This is a profound insight into the minority mind—or
perhaps any mind which does not control the world. Amiri’s art has tried to
destroy the double-consciousness, has tried to see the world through his own
eyes—eyes placed in a particular body and place (culture).
work which is not well known and I would like to make a few suggestions. See
his recent, “Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music” where
he continues to both write about music and use his words like music, and “Tales
of the Out & Gone,” also recent, where he continues to write “gone” stories,
relatives to free jazz, Also on the internet check out Baraka in performance on
Penn Sound. A real treat.
Amiri I feel he is right here in the room with me.