Much of Haki R. Madhubuti’s poetry was initially greeted by outright condemnation on the part of white critics whose standards of aesthetic judgment were antagonistic, to say the least, toward the nationalist assumptions inherent in much of the new black poetry of the 1960’s. Jascha Kessler, for example, in a review in Poetry (February, 1973), said that in “Lee all is converted to rant/ . . ./ [he] is outside poetry somewhere, exhorting, hectoring, cursing, making a lot of noise/ . . . you don’t have to be black for that/ . . ./ it’s hardly an excuse.” Madhubuti’s sociopolitical concerns, in short, were viewed as unfit for poetic rendering, and his urban, rap-style jazz rhythms and phrases in his poems were dismissed as simply disgruntled, militant ravings. Ironically, that sort of reception—and inability to move beyond the parameters of the New Criticism—supported exactly what the new black poets were claiming: White critical standards forced blacks to write as if they were white themselves and thereby denied them their own cultural heritage and suppressed their experience of oppression. Indeed, this is the dilemma in which the young Lee found himself; if he were to “succeed,” he would need (even as a poet) to obliterate his own identity as a black man.
The writings of Amiri Baraka, probably more than any other poet’s, as well as his independent studies in African culture (probably begun at the DuSable Museum), violently...
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