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Remembering Amiri Baraka

By Harriet Staff

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The New York Times reports on Amiri Baraka’s funeral, which took place this weekend at Newark Symphony Hall. The service was lead by Danny Glover, who was influenced by Baraka as a student in San Francisco.

Amiri Baraka’s funeral began with a wordless tribute on Saturday morning: A procession of African drums and jazz trumpets followed the writer’s coffin through Newark Symphony Hall.

From that point, the words came copiously: rapid-fire riffs by poets and politicians that often rose to a shout or a song, in a poetic style Mr. Baraka helped shape.

The poet Tony Medina recited, slam-style: “Baraka spoke in a language of Bopulicitous intent / James Brown black Langston Hughes blue / Mouth of Malcolm Baldwin eyes / Big as suns & moons / Making sure we were never in the dark — / With ghosts!”

Mr. Baraka, a prolific poet and playwright who helped forge the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, died on Jan. 9, at 79. Around 3,000 people filled the grand, gold-leafed hall for the funeral services, which were officiated by the actor Danny Glover. The night before, nearly as many people attended a wake, where the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke.

A photograph of Mr. Baraka sat on an easel beside a coffin on the stage; on the other side, a Greek fisherman’s cap and a scarf with an African print hung on a stand, as if the poet stood there, head turned down.

Among the dozens of speakers were the theorist Cornel West, the poet Sonia Sanchez, who read a poem Maya Angelou wrote for Mr. Baraka, Congressman Donald M. Payne Jr. and several community leaders and activists. The tap-dancer Savion Glover performed.

Mr. Baraka, born Everett LeRoy Jones, and later known as LeRoi Jones, was by turns a Beat poet, a fiery playwright, a strident follower of Malcolm X, a Muslim and a Marxist.

Those who spoke praised Mr. Baraka’s passion, his persistent vigilance over the politics of Newark, and his grit, even as they tried to reconcile his tumultuous past.

In his eulogy, Mr. West called Amiri Baraka “a literary genius,” who wrote his way into the mainstream yet, “at the same time, was willing to reject the white establishment and say, ‘I am going to raise my voice.’ ”

Continue at The New York Times.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, January 20th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.