(Masterpieces of American Literature)

One cannot fully understand “Monk’s World” without knowing about jazz. To Amiri Baraka, poetry is a form of music guided first by rhythm, without which words, which are rhythmic themselves, do not even exist. To look at “Monk’s World,” therefore, references to the background and the virtuosity of black music are indispensable. Originally appearing in a bilingual Italian publication Morso Dal Suono in 1993, the poem is a dedication to Thelonious Monk, the “High Priest of Bebop” in the 1940’s, and to his music, which has continued to inspire Baraka throughout his career.

Written in avant-garde language and free form, the poem begins with one of Monk’s most enduring jazz ballads, “Round Midnight,” where readers are brought into the jazz scene with Monk improvising the “hot” bebop music—the fire engine solo—in the Village Vanguard, a renowned Manhattan jazz club. Adding to the fervor and musicality of the poem are the terms that Baraka uses: “spaced funk” (“spaced” suggesting the state of being “spaced out” associated with drug taking, particularly marijuana, of which jazz musicians have been fond), “numbers & letters” (musical composition and improvisation), “black keys signifying” (the underlying messages or criticism on which the music plays), “weird birds” (bebop, which is “weird” because it is still new, radical, and somewhat oppositional compared to traditional jazz, and “bird”...

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Monk's World Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Benston, Kimberly W. Baraka: The Renegade and the Mask. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1976.

Benston, Kimberly, W., ed. Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones): A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1978.

Brown, Lloyd W. Amiri Baraka. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Fox, Robert Elliot. “LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka: A Scripture of Rhythms.” In Conscientious Sorcerors: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Harris, William J. The Poetry and Poetics of Amiri Baraka: The Jazz Aesthetic. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986.

Hudson, Theodore R. From LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka: The Literary Works. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1973.

Lacey, Henry C. To Raise, Destroy, and Create: The Poetry, Drama, and Fiction of Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1981.

Watts, Jerry G. Amiri Baraka: The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

Woodard, Komozi. A Nation Within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.