Imamu Amiri Baraka Essay - Critical Essays

Baraka, Imamu Amiri (Vol. 10)

Introduction

Baraka, Imamu Amiri 1934–

Baraka, formerly known as LeRoi Jones, is an American poet, playwright, short story writer, essayist, jazz critic, and editor. Baraka's subject is the oppression of blacks in white society and his work an intense emotional response to this condition. He received acclaim for his first professional production, Dutchman. His subsequent work for the theater has provoked both praise and controversy. His poetry and prose are characterized by difficult syntax, often obscuring the logic, but never the purpose, of his thought. Having rejected white values and white society, Baraka strives to create art with a firm didactic purpose: to forge an Afro-American art that reflects the values and sensibilities of the black community. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

Richard Howard

LeRoi Jones is already familiar to New Yorkers as the author of some sensational little plays, and to readers of poetry as the author of some sensational little poems, and if his book [Blues People: Negro Music in White America] fails to be sensational, it is not because he has tried to keep it from being so, but because his accommodation of his subject has been couched—bedded down, in fact—in that language of all languages most refractory to sensationalism: the latest jargon of the social sciences. It is almost French, Mr. Jones's enterprise, if we think of the ways Parisian intellectuals have of investing a complex popular phenomenon like the movies with whatever intellectual forces they happen to have...

(The entire section is 305 words.)

M. L. Rosenthal

[Baraka's] poems and plays have explored the subjective effects of the dominant whites' violation of black mentality, and at the same time have acted out psychologically and in fantasy the politics of intransigeant confrontation. No American poet since Pound has come closer to making poetry and politics reciprocal forms of action. That is not necessarily a good thing. When the reciprocity comes out of the very nature of the language and feeling that engage the poet, when it amounts to a discovery as of the awakening of the senses, then we have to do with an accomplishment whose moral and aesthetic character are inseparable values: as in Hamlet or Coriolanus or, less grandly, in Shelley's glorious chorus...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

Barbara Mackay

[Sidney Poet Heroical is] a slick, semi-musical satire of Sidney Poitier. In fact, Baraka's play attacks all blacks who "make it big" in white society, forget their roots, and begin to think, talk, and live "white." Much of Baraka's characterization is funny and effective: his portrait of Sidney's egotistical, ruthless buddy and mentor who prances across the stage in knee-high boots, skin-tight pants, and shirts invariably open to subnavel levels, and his white she-devils in glittery make-up, women propelled by extravagant sexual and economic tastes, are clever exaggerations of America's fortune-hunters and culture vultures.

But Sidney Poet Heroical … overworks the contrast between...

(The entire section is 274 words.)

Carll Tucker

Maybe humanism is not an adequate stand from which to review Amiri Baraka's political diatribe "S-1." Maybe devotion to a just perspective, temperate weighing of evidence, and fairness are luxuries that can no longer be afforded in our oppressed and ravaged society….

But if the situation in America were as bad, or even potentially as bad, as Baraka suggests, then there would be no call for this critique or this critic: We would have lost the battle for civility, compassion, and toleration that the American enterprise is all about and would have to relapse into silence or join the ranks of the shriekers.

Ordinarily, a piece of political claptrap like "S-1" would not be worth your...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Sherley Anne Williams

Fifty years from now when negroes and others take "English,"… they'll read: LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) was at the cutting edge of mid-twentieth century American literature. Black Arts and Black Consciousness and Black Liberation will be explained away in a footnote like Harlem (a Negro area in New York) in the Norton Anthology of Literature. The process of cultural cannibalism, until now confined to black music, speech and dress, will have been extended to Afro-American literature.

Baraka's early association with the Beat poets, the finality with which, in his poetry, he shook off the dry husks of Pound, Williams, etc., and his political conversion to Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought do...

(The entire section is 769 words.)

P. J. Laska

Hard Facts is a self-consciously communist poetry book, right down to the red cover with the silhouettes of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin-Mao on the back. Baraka's consciousness is committed to class struggle and his poetics is materialist, but it too often falls short of dialectics…. [There] is the bad mouthing of the phonies with a hot stream of scream-of-consciousness hip talk mixed with revolutionary exhortations. All of which breaks our ear rather than sings to our needs. An atheist preacher is still a preacher, and one wonders how much respect for the multinational masses is really there. I'm reminded of a line from Baraka's earlier Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note: "Nobody sings anymore."...

(The entire section is 205 words.)