The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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.

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.


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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 470 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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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.

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