Friday, January 10, 2014

Amiri Baraka

One of America's great poets, Amiri Baraka, has died. The cause of death has not been specified at the time of writing, but according to the New York Times obituary Baraka, 79, had been in hospital since late December.

I was listening to him on the radio only yesterday, in a pre-recorded programme about radicalism in the Seventies and--specifically--the Black Forum label attached to Motown which released albums not only by Baraka, but also Langston Hughes. I remarked on Twitter how calm, gentle and grandfatherly he had sounded in the interview. "But I still wouldn't bet against him in an arm wrestle," I said.

Those words feel rather inappropriate now. But the punch and anger of Baraka's art--which is what I was praising, in my glib way--is partly what made it so great, along with his immense lyrical and rythmical intelligence; and if anybody wants to look at the history of America (and England for that matter) since World War II and tell me the change Baraka fought for wasn't needed . . . well, I'll have the doctor and a giant butterfly net at your door within the hour.

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