Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

By David Charbonneau

Dear Editor,

No doubt the editors of Poetry felt that Amiri Baraka’s eminent position in African-American poetry and the Black Arts Movement gives him the authority to review an anthology that clearly positions itself as post-bam [“A Post-Racial Anthology,” May 2013]. But I wonder if that necessitated allowing him to rant and stamp. Unfortunately, Baraka’s thinking in the last few decades has gone rancid. Anyone doubting this should read his poem “Somebody Blew Up America” which clearly accuses American and Israeli Jews of being in on the 9/11 plot. Not only is the poem obviously anti-Semitic, it’s a piece of doggerel.

As a critic, Baraka is sophomoric at best. He cites himself in the third person under two different names as if he were two different people (neat trick, that!) while he equates contemporary African-American poetry with Mitt Romney and being white with being Republican. He also invokes George W. Bush — er, I mean, his wife, Amina Baraka — to state, in essence, “if you’re not on our side, you’re on their side.” (He also complains that Amina was left out of the anthology.) But Baraka has forgotten that fundamentalism, black or white, is always the mirror image of the thing it opposes: identical, but in reverse. No doubt, there is a useful critique to be offered of Rowell’s anthology from the perspective of a more urban, working class, contemporary African-American poetic tradition. (If Rowell really does “dis” Etheridge Knight, for instance, then there’s something wrong not just with his politics, but his ear.) Alas, Baraka is not the poet to give that critique as he stopped thinking long ago and replaced the classic Marxist dialectic with a self-righteous mix of racial paranoia and politics — unless, of course, the editors’ point was not to bring light to the subject, but only more heat.

Originally Published: July 1st, 2013
Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In
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