The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

“Political Poem” is a fairly short poem of twenty-eight lines, divided into three stanzas, written in free verse. Despite the title, it is no more political than most of Amiri Baraka’s poems; rather, it is a poem about the politics in American poetry.

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The first six-line stanza is by far the most easily accessible. It is a short meditation on the effects of luxury on thought. Basically, Baraka is saying that luxury is a way of avoiding thought. Living in luxury is like living under a heavy tarpaulin, protected from information and ideas. In such sheltered conditions, theories can thrive easily, because they do not have to contend with unpleasant ideas or with facts which might contradict the theory.

Although there is no explicit first-person identity in the first stanza, there is no reason to think that the speaker is anyone other than Baraka himself. In the second stanza, though, a first-person narrator appears. The stanza begins with the opening of a parenthesis that never closes. This seems to be a way of signaling that the poetic voice is about to shift, and in fact, the first word of the stanza is “I,” indicating that a definite persona is now speaking. The speaker says that he has not seen the earth for years, and now associates dirt with society; the implication is that he is cut off not only from the earth but also from people. He goes on living as a natural man, but he knows that this cut-off existence is unnatural.

When a second parenthesis opens, it seems to be the same speaker still. The parenthesis shows how the small interruptions of answering a phone and getting a sandwich prevent him from even following through on the thoughts he has been pursuing. More important, however, his poem has been undone by his “station,” as one of the people living in too much luxury. When the parenthesis closes, he ruminates on the mistake that people such as he make by trying to fill their lives with an unclear ideal of love.

The third stanza begins with the thought that the speaker’s poetry is also undone by “the logic of any specific death”—meaning that any individual death can have more power than any poem. Then another parenthesis begins, which also remains open. The speaker refers to “Old gentlemen/ who still follow fires,” perhaps meaning professors and critics of art and poetry. They ask the poet, “Who are you? What are you/ saying?” In their eyes, “you” are “Something to be dealt with.” Their rules and guidelines of art and poetry are poisonous; they say “No, No,/ you cannot feel,” unlike the poetry of the Beat generation, with which Baraka was associated, which values emotion highly. The “fast suicide” of the last line, similar to the message of the “old gentlemen,” is the suicide of renouncing feeling.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470

Amiri Baraka was greatly influenced by the Surrealist movement of the early part of the twentieth century, particularly by the Dadaist movement which flourished in France in the 1910’s and 1920’s. Surrealism in general was a movement in all the arts that disdained conventional forms. The Surrealists tried to create images directly from the unconscious mind, without putting them into any conventional framework. The Dadaists took this one step further, and tried deliberately to subvert conventional forms in art.

Baraka was not trying to write Dadaist or Surrealist poetry in “Political Poem,” but the influence of these movements can be seen in, among other things, his unconventional grammar and punctuation. He used such devices as opening two parentheses that he never closes, and he wrote much of the poem in a series of sentence fragments. The use of fragments demands that the reader find the connection between the individual images for himself or herself; the reader must re-create the associations that Baraka saw.

Much of the meaning of this poem is created by its images, and each image may suggest several meanings. For example, when near the end of the first stanza he talks about theories thriving “under heavy tarpaulins,” the reader might picture these tarpaulins as covering the clearly negative “open market/ of least information” of lines 3 and 4. When taken together with the opening of the next stanza, however, in which the speaker talks of being cut off from the earth, dirt, and seeds, a reader might get the sense that theories are like mushrooms, which grow in dark enclosed spaces, while ideas are seeds, which need the fertile “dirt” of society to take root. Both interpretations are suggested. Similarly, there are many possible interpretations of an image such as “The darkness of love,/ in whose sweating memory all error is forced.” It refers not only to the dark and unclear ideal of love but also to two people making love in the dark.

To appreciate Baraka’s poems fully, one must read or hear them read aloud; “Political Poem” is no exception. Baraka works closely with the sounds and rhythms of his poem. A simple phrase such as “Gettin up/ from the desk to secure a turkey sandwich” begins with almost waltzlike rhythm, which is broken at the end. This rhythm has a light, singsong quality to it that is noticeably missing from the lines immediately before and after the parenthetical material in the middle of the second stanza, and it sets up a similarly singsong quality in the next lines, “the poem undone/ undone by my station, by my station.” Although the speaker here is lamenting that his poem is “undone,” the music seems to suggest that the interruption from his weighty meditations comes as a relief—indicating that the relief he feels is the real problem.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 174

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.

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