Introduction

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Baraka, Imamu Amiri 1934–

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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 is 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, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

Denise Levertov

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[In Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note], where the poems are arranged chronologically, one can see even as the chaff flies that the grain is good. [Jones's] special gift is an emotive music that might have made him predominantly a "lyric poet," but his deeply felt preoccupation with more than personal issues enlarges the scope of his poems beyond what the term is often taken to mean…. I feel that sometimes his work is muddled, and that after the event he convinces himself that it had to be that way; in other words, his conception of when a poem is ready to printed differs from mine. But … he is developing swiftly and has a rich potential. Certain poems—especially "The Clearing," "The Turncoat," "Notes for a Speech"—show what he can do. They are beautiful poems, and others that are less complete have passages of equal beauty.

Since beauty is one of the least precise words in the language I had better define what I mean by it in this instance: the beauty in Jones's poems is sensuous and incantatory, in contrast to the beauty [found in poetry like Gil Sorrentino's] which is a sensation of exactitude, a hitting of nails on the head with a ringing sound. In his contribution to the notes on poetics at the back of … The New American Poetry, Jones speaks of Garcia Lorca as one of the poets he has read intensely; and what is incantatory (magical) in his work, while it is natural to him, may well have been first brought to the surface by the discovery of an affinity in the magic of Lorca. (p. 252)

Denise Levertov, "Poets of the Given Ground," in The Nation (copyright 1961 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 193, No. 12, October 14, 1961, pp. 251-53.∗

C.W.E. Bigsby

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The fear which pervades LeRoi Jones's work is that of a loss of identity—a fear which becomes socially relevant when extended to the scale of racial assimilation. In this context violence functions … as a means of discovering and forging identity…. [Jones's] is a sensitivity, created by the extremes of racial guilt and discrimination, which can see no middle ground between man as victim and man as rebel…. While the violence which emerges as the strongest mark of Jones's work does at times show something of the ambivalence which Brecht had felt, there is an element of unabashed relish in its presentation, particularly in The Slave and The Toilet, which constantly threatens to undermine its validity both as drama and polemic. (p. 140)

LeRoi Jones's fierce commitment is such that he has felt himself bound, at times, to attack those who have apparently transcended the immediate concerns of racial injustice…. 'A writer' he insists, 'is committed to what is real, and not to the sanctity of his Feelings .' While this is a distinction which Kafka or Lawrence, for...

(The entire section contains 7309 words.)

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