The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Amiri Baraka, a leader and inspiration within the Black Arts movement, opened the Black Arts Repertory Theater/School (BARTS) in 1964, which, in combination with the Black Arts movement, promoted an interest in music, poetry, art, and drama in Harlem, New York. During the 1960’s, Baraka began to distance himself from mainstream white American culture while aligning himself with the politics of Black Nationalism. Baraka wrote “A Poem for Black Hearts” to eulogize Malcolm X, a separatist leader of the Civil Rights movement, who was assassinated in 1965. While iconizing the political figure of Malcolm X as a symbol of African American masculinity, dignity, and self-consciousness, the poem’s speaker urges “black men” to “avenge” Malcolm’s death.

The poem, written in free verse, consists of twenty-seven lines that build an image of Malcolm X, which immortalizes him as a “black god of our time” while encouraging African American men to continue the struggle for civil rights. Malcolm’s body and essence are fragmented by the speaker; each part of Malcolm’s body is given significance so that the created image of the fallen leader becomes an image for all “black men.” While the poem is “For Black Hearts,” it is also “For Malcolm’s eyes,” which, according to the speaker, have the ability to break “the face of some dumb white man” by challenging his authority, his bigotry. The poem is “For/ Malcolm’s hands,” which...

(The entire section is 531 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Baraka utilizes enjambed lines to carry syntax over from one line to the next, as well as unconventional punctuation and repetition to stress particular words and phrases. In addition, he creates a mood of urgency in his layout. This urgency in combination with the fast and forward moving rhythm works to persuade and rally his intended readers, “black men,” to continue Malcolm’s battle: to challenge the dominant orders that disenfranchise and exclude African Americans.

Throughout “A Poem for Black Hearts,” enjambment and unconventional punctuation control reading speed. Commas instigate light stops in the progression of the poem’s narrative. Intentionally, Baraka places commas after he introduces an aspect of Malcolm. This use of the comma creates both a slight pause and a stress, which becomes apparent in the first two lines of the poem. The comma between “eyes” and “when” functions to stress the word “eyes,” appearing before the comma, while preparing the reader for the symbolic significance of “Malcolm’s eyes,” in particular, the shattering gaze, which follows after the comma.

The poem is “For Malcolm’s eyes,” which were significant, powerful “when they broke/ the face of some dumb white man.” In addition to the arrangement of the clauses, the fact that the first line ends with the word “broke,” which is not followed by punctuation, pushes the reader into the first two words of the second line,...

(The entire section is 406 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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

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