Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note Analysis

Amiri Baraka

The Poem

Dedicated to Kellie Jones, the author’s daughter, who was born on May 16, 1959, Amiri Baraka’s “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” suggests a turning point in the poet’s relationship to American society in the late 1950’s. Written from a first-person perspective, the poem, likely a reflection of the poet’s own concerns and personal experience, is autobiographical in tone, though the point of view could be that of a fictive voice struggling with the same issues.

Then known as LeRoi Jones, Baraka is one with the persona of the poem. In a confessional tone, he meditates upon his own existence and renders a number of observations associated with apparently daily actions of domestic life. The poet first describes becoming “accustomed to the way/ The ground opens up and envelopes” him as he is engaged in such a mundane activity as walking his dog. Immediately, there is a mood of repetition, the recurrence of daily chores or duties, but these actions are linked to more complex psychological states—the sensation of the “ground” opening up—and are beyond expected expressions of boredom connected to numbing repetition.

Certain ruminations occur at night, and the poem implies a spiritual awareness of personal vacancy associated with the thought processes set free by recognizing one’s place in the cosmos. The “I” voice also observes the “broad edged silly music” of the “wind,” which is linked to racing to...

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Forms and Devices

Written in a conversational style, the poem is structured in six stanzas, and there is minimal separation between the voice of the poet and the persona of the poem. The perspective is that of a psychologically complex individual, whose race, class, and occupation are unannounced. The poet has reached a juncture at which the usual activities of life are charged with deeper meaning and the need for self-assessment. Of the three longer stanzas—those of more than one line—the first and fifth are of five lines each, and the third is four lines long. These longer stanzas are each followed by a single-line stanza, which serves as a kind of response, an answer or summation, to the stanza preceding it. The line “Things have come to that” sums up the comments in the first stanza, which alludes to the walking of the dog and the running for the bus, and “Nobody sings anymore” is an oblique summary to the activity of star counting. The closing single-line stanza, “Her own clasped hands,” is in actuality the final phrase of the preceding sentence. Furthermore, the poet uses ellipses as a minor device, one in the first stanza at the very end, and the other after the fourth line in the fifth stanza.

The poem does not employ rhyme but uses the straightforward language of everyday thought and reflection; there is an absence of traditional meter, though the lines within the longer stanzas are often “run-on,” as in the first and second lines of the first...

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(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.