The extraordinary poet Amiri Baraka, formerly LeRoi Jones, died today at age 79 after a prolonged period of ill health. Huge parts of American politics and poetry can't be imagined without Baraka's blazing, mercurial, punch-in-the-throat animus; this summer I thought about him every time I saw audiences scream certain lines of Kendrick Lamar. People much more qualified than I am will surely be writing more on Baraka soon; on my end, I've only got what I told my kids yesterday on the first class I taught of the semester—that poetry is such a pure use of language that the best of it feels pre-verbal, a flash not even in the heart but in the nervous system. Baraka's always been especially that way to me. From "Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note":
And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.
And the end of "The New World":
Our style,and discipline, controlling the method of knowledge.Beatniks, like Bohemians, go calmly out of style. And boysare dying in Mexico, who did not get the word.The lateness of their fabrication: mark their holeswith filthy needles. The lust of the world. This will notbe news. The simple damning lust,float flat magic in low changingevenings. Shiver your handsin dance. Empty all of me forknowing, and will the dangerof identification,Let me sit and go blind in my dreamingand be that dream in purpose and device.A fantasy of defeat, a strong strong manolder, but no wiser than the defect of love.