For some he was way too left of center: LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka)

In the late 1980s I remember regularly watching on television a ½ hour arts program produced in Minneapolis, MN known as “Alive from Off Center.”  The program featured a wide range of artistic productions, not always in their entirety, that included the spoken word, music, dance and theatrical pieces of performance art.  I think of this arts program now when I recall Black poet, Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones), who ultimately proved to be way too left of center while functioning as the Poet Laureate of New Jersey.  Born and raised in Newark, NJ, Mr. Barack died last month at the age of 79.    It was after 9/11 when Baraka wrote what some consider an incendiary poem (entitled “Somebody Blew Up America”) about the events of that day that his title of Poet Laureate of NJ was taken away from him in 2004.   I offer here an earlier poem written in 1961 by Mr. Baraka (under his former name, LeRoi Jones) that depicts this man’s unique sensibility.

For Hettie

My wife is left-handed.

which implies a fierce de-

termination.  A complete other

worldliness.  IT’S WEIRD, BABY.

The way some folks

are always trying to be

different.  A sin & a shame.

But then, she’s been a bohemian

all of her life. . . black stockings

refusing to take orders.  I sit

patiently, trying to tell her

whats right.  TAKE THAT DAMN

PENCIL OUTTA THAT HAND.  YOU’RE

RITING BACKWARDS. & such. but

to no avail. & it shows

in her work. Left-handed coffee,

Left-handed eggs; when she comes

in at night. . . it’s her left hand

offered for me to kiss.  Damn.

& now her belly droops over the seat.

They say it’s a child. But

I ain’t quite so sure.

–LeRoi Jones (from: Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, Baraka’s first book of published poems, 1961)

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3 thoughts on “For some he was way too left of center: LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka)

  1. kvennarad says:

    LeRoi Jones was always my go-to guy when I wanted to read about Jazz.

    • I remember reading his poetry in the at-that-time current anthologies from the late 60s/early 1970s — I kind of wish he’d kept the name LeRoi Jones.
      It’s unfortunate that the New Jersey legislature did not take kindly to this poet’s response to 9/11 — it was an overreaction on the part of the politicians, in my opinion, and sadly NJ no longer has a designated Poet Laureate (and interestingly this NJ Poet Laureate position was only established in the late 1990s — there turned out to be only 2 Poet Laureates before it was abolished….doesn’t say much for free speech and recognition of literary merit within the political realm of the state of NJ)

      • kvennarad says:

        I have the impression he was trying to write a ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ for the 2000s. It was a very forceful political piece but it failed to tackle the profound psychological issues of 9/11, of which his own anger at people’s failure to see the other outrages he catalogues is only a part.

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