In fact, he identified himself entirely with it, even in his own self-reflection. In the reflective poem "leroy," published in 1969 under his newly adopted name Amiri Baraka, a nostalgic comment on his mother becomes a lofty vision of himself as the bearer of black wisdom -- that "strong nigger feeling" (5) -- from his ancestors forward to the next generation. He refers to this legacy that he is passing on as his "consciousness" (11), an indication that he had by this point in his life entirely adopted his race as his identity.
This wholehearted self-identification with race, along with a keen awareness of his cultural power as a poet, combined to create an artist absorbed with his own capacity for social comment and change. After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Baraka became disenchanted with the somewhat passive anti-establishment attitudes of the Greenwich Village artistic community, and moved to Harlem to become involved in black nationalism. There he established the Black Arts Repertory Theatre School, and threw himself into developing the role of poetry, drama, and music in the formation of a modern black social consciousness.
His conception of the power of art to inform and even create this black consciousness is most clearly revealed in his poem "Black Art." In this poem, his long-held belief in expressionism, influenced heavily by William Carlos Williams, lays the foundation by asserting the direct link between true...
Since poems have the power not just to represent but in some way to be the reality they describe, Baraka goes on to indicate the type of poems needed to create the social change necessary: "poems that kill" (19), "poems that wrestle cops to the ground" (21), poems that set "fire and death to / whities ass" (27-28). Not nice poems, perhaps, but that is not important to Baraka. What is important is that they are black poems, and for Baraka, the black poem and the black person were one and the same. "Black Art" makes this connection explicit: "Let Black people understand / that they are…poems & poets & / all the loveliness here in the world" (44-49). From poem-as-person, Baraka makes the final leap to poem-as-world: "Let the world be a Black Poem / and Let All Black People Speak This Poem / Silently / or LOUD" (52-55).
By this point, Baraka's poetry had become a dramatic conflagration of his own sense of individual identity, the ancient and eternal identity of the black race, and the identity of black culture at that time. This swirling concoction often created poetry that mixed imagery of the black man as heroic archetype with Baraka's own strong feelings of misogyny, homophobia, and deep hatred of white society. This, claims Joseph Lease, distinguishes Baraka's philosophy of art: "Amiri Baraka's poetry…evokes and celebrates transformation of both self and community; he imagines that transformation of self and community reinforce one another" (389).
"Amiri Baraka: Biography and Historical Context." Modern American Poetry. The University of Illinois. Web. 29 May 2010.
Baraka, Amiri. "Speech to Rutgers University." Chicago Review. Chicago: Fall 1997. Vol. 43, Iss. 4, 109. Print.
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