September 28, 2002
Earth calling Amiri Baraka

I just had a brief telephone conversation with New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka.

Baraka made a fool of himself in public last week when he recited a poem titled "Somebody Blew Up America," in which he said

Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed

Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers

To stay home that day

Why did Sharon stay away?

Baraka has refused New Jersey governor James McGreevey's demand that Baraka resign as poet laureate and the governor does not have the legal means to force the resignation.

So I looked up Baraka's phone number and called him to ask where he got the information that 4000 Israeli workers were told to stay home last September 11. I reached him at his home in Newark shortly after 8pm Eastern Time today. Based on the jazz that was playing in the background, I can report that at least he has good taste in music. I mentioned that I heard about the recent controversy and asked him where he got his information from.

He was largely incoherent, but said that he got it off the Internet from the Israeli web sites "Yadiot" [his spelling] "Haaretz" and "Shabak". Shabak is the Hebrew acronym for the security agency which is generally known in English as "Shin Bet", and if they even have a public website, it is not called "Shabak". What he calls "Yadiot" would most likely be daily newspaper "Yediot Aharonot", whose website is solely in Hebrew, a language which Baraka gave no hint of understanding. I asked for references to exact pages, and with great confidence he refered me to the Jordanian newspaper Al-Watan. He couldn't give me a single URL. (Perhaps he got his information from this report, attributed to the Hizbollah Al-Manar TV station, and not independently verified.)

I told him that I saw a story about his poetry reading on Haaretz (the website that he cited just a moment earlier) and he asked me how to spell that. So I spelled it, and he repeated "H-A-R-C-V"... I gave up and ended the conversation. I felt sorry for the guy. If he's not simply a garden variety idiot then he probably suffers from a medical condition or substance abuse. Either way, the State of New Jersey should be able to find a way to completely distance itself from him.

His phone number, by the way, is easily found by doing a WHOIS lookup for

UPDATE: lots more good tidbits on Baraka in the inimitable comments section at Little Green Footballs. Like this link from Erin O'Connor

UPDATE (10/8): Baraka responds to his critics

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at September 28, 2002 06:02 PM

Amiri Baraka, another poster boy for affirmative action.:^|

Posted by: Jabba the Nutt on September 28, 2002 07:47 PM

Maybe the poet is gay
But he'll be heard anyway

Maybe the poet is drugged
But he won't stay under the rug

Maybe the voice of the spirit
In which case you'd better hear it

Maybe he's a woman
Who can touch you where you're human

Male female slave or free
Peaceful or disorderly
Maybe you and he will not agree
But you need him to show you new ways to see

Don't let the system fool you
All it wants to do is rule you
Pay attention to the poet
You need him and you know it

Put him up against the wall
Shoot him up with pentothal

Shoot him up with lead
You won't call back what's been said
Put him in the ground
But one day you'll look around

There'll be a face you don't know
Voicing thoughts you've heard before

Male female slave or free
Peaceful or disorderly
Maybe you and he will not agree
But you need him to show you new ways to see

Don't let the system fool you
All it wants to do is rule you
Pay attention to the poet
You need him and you know it

-Bruce Cockburn

Posted by: Ipsofacto on September 28, 2002 07:48 PM

I've worked up a few ideas about how he could possibly be driven from office by a clever Governor.

Sharon's Law: it's not abuse of power if you're using it to defend yourself and your people.

Posted by: Laurence Simon on September 28, 2002 08:34 PM

Hey, Ipso, we need _good_ poets. I've not been impressed with Baraka's output; and now I'm also unimpressed with Cockburn's.

Then again, I don't know why people expect artists to be able to comment coherently on politics. Very few artists are able to deal with reality on even the level of the average blue collar worker. Blame Shelley, I guess.

Posted by: Andrea Harris on September 28, 2002 10:57 PM

I was in touch with you a few weeks ago re posting your work on our site. I have posted your comments on Amiri, here is the link:

I very much enjoy your writing. I posted your web site address as well, so your life may get a bit more interesting. We have opinionated readers.......


Posted by: Eve Harow on September 29, 2002 01:09 AM

I got this e-mail from an anonymous reader:
I do want to inform you that this so called idiot has worked with notable Jewish poet Allen Ginsberg. You should try doing some research before sentencing someone. And by the way, since it seems you don't know it, art (for example poetry) can be used to convey an audience's need for clarity. If you would have read the poem, you would have noticed that it goes everywhere and nowhere. There are a lot of people who believe that 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy (notice that I did not say that I believed it). With your irresponsible article you just fanned the flames of those people. Good Job!
Yes, and in a way Baraka's poem did serve the audience's need for clarity, in the sense that it gives the rest of us the chance to clarify that Baraka is not in full command of himself. Those who look to Baraka to ask the right questions are probably unreachable anyway. There might even be ways to bring clarity to those who think that 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy, but sending anonymous confused e-mails to me is probably not one of them.

Posted by: Stefan Sharkansky on September 29, 2002 06:06 AM

Cockburn's correct. You may not like the message and the message may even be wrong or hateful, but the poet sparks debate - furthers the discussion.

and, of course, Cockburn is a much better poet than Baraka by far - Baraka's just an idiot.

Posted by: Ipsofacto on September 29, 2002 07:43 AM

Dear Nissan, (Arutz 7)
I read the article in HaAretz of Shabbat on Baraka - LeRoy Jones, a chosen current ''National'' Poet of New Jersey (for 2 year period).
Reading ''Earth Calling Amiri Baraka'' by Stefan Sharkansky today on your site, ( ), I want to send this information that puts more light on Baraka's personality and why we should not be surprised.
The surprise is that a person like Amiri Baraka with so much hate for whites, incitement and complexities ever get to be chosen to this position in the state of New Jersey, regardless of the quality of his work and contribution to the African American cause. When people are chosen to such positions, receiving public money ( the color is GREEN) they need to be impeccable.

Rachel salpeter Levy
From this site:
Born in Newark, New Jersey the son of Colt LeRoy Jones, a postal supervisor, and Anna Lois Jones, a social worker. The product of a middle-class family.
1952 - From Rutgers University transferred to Howard University where he dropped out to join the Air Force. Changed his name spelling to LeRoi, a "Frenchified" version. He began writing for journals during this period.

BEAT PERIOD (1957-1962)
1957 - After leaving the Air Force under undesirable circumstances, he moved to the Lower East side of Manhattan and joined a loose circle of Greenwich Village artists, musicians, and writers.
1958 - Married Hettie Cohen, a middle-class Jewish woman, and co-edited the avant-garde magazine, Yugen. During this period he first published prose and poetry.
1961 - Earned praise and respect as a poet with his first volume of poetry, "Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note..." -AND- Went to Cuba and wrote the essay, "Cuba Libre" -AND- production of his play, Dante at the Bowery Theatre. This was a philosophical turning point in his life.
1961 - In The Baptism he reviewed the territory of James Baldwin's Go Tell It On the Mountain with a surrealist imagination.
1962 - The Toilet again focused on adolescence as a quest for love in the socially enforced guise of toughness (these last two plays deal with theme of homosexuality).
1962 - In The Slave he continued the theme of the confrontation of a black poet/revolutionary with a white woman friend/antagonist.

1964 - Baraka's reputation as a playwright was established with the production of Dutchman at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York on March 24, 1964. The play was in the manner of a seemingly realistic one act play, although there were some unrealistic elements. Clay's big monologue became the text of the 1960s black activists. The play also won the Obie award for best play and film was made.

1965 - Baraka solidified his hate for whites with the death of Malcolm X. He turned his back on his previous life and career -AND- his marriage broke up and he moved to Harlem and Newark and married Amina (Sylvia Robinson).
1965 - Founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in Harlem which produced Baraka plays which were often anti-white plays for black only audience. The theatre dissipated in a few months.
1967 - He also founded the Spirit House Players in Newark and other cultural and political organizations. Among the Spirit House productions were two anti-white plays against police brutality: Police and Arm Yourself and Harm Yourself.
1968 - His play, Home on the Range was performed as a benefit for the Black Panther part.
1968 - He dropped his western name and adopted the Muslim name of Imamu Amiri Baraka.
1969 - His Great Goodness of Life became part of the successful Black Quartet on Off-Broadway -AND- his Slave Ship was widely reviewed (portrays black history as suffering in the bowels of a slave ship on a two-tiered stage.

1974 - Baraka moved toward political activities and dropped the spiritual title, Imamu and adopted a Marxist Leninist philosophy (he called for the working class to revolt against the bourgeoisie).
Baraka addressed pressing social, sexual, psychological, and artistic implications of race in the United States -AND- he is referred to as a modernist in that he abandons realism and naturalism -AND- he influenced the future black playwrights like Ed Bullins.
1992 - Baraka visited EMU and read poetry and shared his ideas with the audience.
Today, Baraka is a critic, poet, playwright, and activist who still gets recognized as an outspoken critic and advocate for the rights and equality of African Americans. He frequently tours to speaking and reading engagements at universities and colleges nation-wide.
Dutchman was first presented at The Cherry Lane Theatre, New York City on March 24, 1964 with Jennifer West and Robert Hooks. A film version was made starring Al Freeman, Jr. and Shirley Knight.
The play marked the emergence of Baraka's heightened sense of racial awareness. It was an archetypal lesson depicting the way a dominant White society attempts to tease, disrespect, and ultimately destroy black men who speak out against their oppressors.
It was hailed for its powerful evocation of the black man's oppression and homogenation in the Euro-American culture of the United States. A shocking indictment of a racist white society and the inner feelings of black men.
Dutchman and The Slave demonstrate the philosophical change Baraka was undergoing.
Clay not only expresses his anger, like Bigger in Native Son, but also:
- awareness; his ability to analyze and articulate his condition
- through Clay's awareness, Baraka attempts to educate the White society to the feelings and situations of the collective black man
- the soliloquy is a furious account of Negro art as a substitute for murder
The characters Lula and Clay are not conventional, but archetypes:

- Clay, the Negro square wearing his uniform, a three button suit - Lula, the white Bohemian, entering as Eve with the apple--a temptress with a complete catalogue and storehouse of Bohemian vices--she seduces and attacks Clay's manhood
The characters of the silent, onlooking passengers express an indifference to the violence before their eyes that marks them as true New Yorkers enjoying public transportation

Posted by: Rachel Salpeter on September 29, 2002 01:12 PM

Whatever else he may be, he's a bad poet.

Posted by: lucidscreamer on September 29, 2002 01:50 PM

Baraka is another fool easily convinced by Arab propaganda. It is Baraka's own racism that blinds him to the truth.

Sharkansky notes about his phone call to Baraka, "Based on the jazz that was playing in the background, I can report that at least he has good taste in music."

Perhaps Baraka needs to be informed that the Nazis called Jazz "Nigger-Jew music." Arab propagandists find willing schills in those who don't know their history.

Posted by: Remember on September 30, 2002 11:29 AM

This has got to be one of the most ridiculous things I have heard in a long time. Amiri Baraka is obviously nuts for trying to blame the WTC attacks on the Jews. There was another man who accused the Jews of problems in his country... his name was Adolf Hitler.

Quite frankly, I don't see how a man who speaks out against racism can make such racist remarks. His poem is outragous and overtly racist, and absurd. Not only that, but his based on nothing but islamic extremist propaganda... if he agrees with them, then perhaps he must agree on the other ideas they support?

Oh... and I heard of this man just recently, and saw a webpage where someone said his was a great poet like Langston Hughes. Well, Langston Hughes was a great poet, I've enjoyed reading his works... but Mr. Baraka is definately no Langston Hughes with his unfounded racist remarks.

Posted by: Office_of_the_Law on October 2, 2002 08:32 PM

This link is for all you people who are incensed by Amiri Baraka's poem. Its an article written by the man himself in response to his poem and the backlash and misinterpretation it has received.


Posted by: Solshouse on October 7, 2002 08:13 PM

Imamu Amiri Baraka should be looked upon as a man who is attempting to shed a ray of intelligence on an incredibly ignorant country. Any American who thinks that his current poem is anti-semitic is a testament to the this countries ignorance. Why are four little lines of a six page poem drawing so much attention? I mean, it seems that there is a lot of other contoversial elements within the poem that one, very unenlightened individual, could get hung up on. But, instead many are eager to jump on the band wagon and call Baraka a neo-nazi. This is rediculous. The man is simply trying to question the events that took place according to a story that that is full of more holes than a sieve. Anyone who has done the slightest bit of research on the events of 9/11 and the precipitating activity (and i don't mean the information that one gets from Mr. Gates and Mr. Turner, or any other media's projection of the governments "truth")knows that there is good reason to question what exactly happened. After all, what is more American than questioning the actions of the government? That is exactly what this country was founded on. Perhaps it easier for people to accuse Baraka of being an anti-semite than it is for them to answer some of the questions that he poses in, one of the greatest American poems, "Somebody Blew Up America. Since consequently, if many were to take a few minutes to critically think about the poems intention they would realize that it is actually their own apathetic acceptance of lies that blew up America.

Posted by: fizuck on October 13, 2002 12:13 PM

Baraka is a disturbed political nitwit who also happens to be an excellent poet. There's no contradiction. (Remember Ezra Pound, the fascist anti-Semite who was also a great poet?)

Posted by: Michael Rabinowitz on November 9, 2002 09:52 PM

You people condemning this man have to realize that he is not an idiot: the whole reason he wrote the poem was to stir up controversey. He spent 4 lines of this very long poem, saying what you guys are upset about. In other parts of the poem he criticizes any and everybody and mentions that Jews have been mistreated. The people condemning this man have not read anything else by him nor know anything about what this man has done for not only the black community but the literary community as well. Before you criticize, read the whole poem, read all of his other literature and know about the man before you start talking about somthing you know nothing of. And act like adults for goodness sakes, stop name-calling and please educate yourselves because you are sadly misinformed.

Posted by: Conscious on November 9, 2002 11:24 PM

Hey "Conscious", I did as you said, and I read numerous articles concerning LeRoi Jones' AKA Amiri Bara-ca ca. I.e., his history . . . and many of his online poems. You've convinced me . . . of one thing . . . Bara-ca-ca IS the king of poet idiots, and you're his vassal. He is a hate-monger, eschewing the same crap as Malcolm X did. Don't cloak the absurdities of his so-called poetry as talent, don't give every ranting voice the credit of an audience, and tell me this jackass is worthy of any public funding or Poet Laureate status. But why wouldn't the City Council of Newark NJ want Bara-ca-ca to be a "school poet"? Perhaps because 2/3 of the city council is Black? Oh nooooooo, surely that can be only a coincidence, right? Black sheep, following any Black voice, right into oblivion.

Posted by: R.Abernathy on December 19, 2002 09:19 PM

I agree with some of the others who've responded to this ongoing debate that it is unfair to quote four lines from a six page poem and then call the man an idiot. I do believe (at least I hope) Baraka's intention is to evoke thought, and I can appreciate his art in that respect. This poem repeatedly asks "who?" And I gather that it was not to be taken as an article in the New York Times where he needed to cite sources, but merely for the reader to continually ask questions about all the things concerning government we've "known" to be "true". I've seen Baraka perform live, and his much of his might is in his performance. If his intention were as I believe, we've all fallen right into his trap, WE ARE thinking about it, talking about it, aruging about it, writing about it. That's enough. His job is done.

Posted by: Chryssy on January 15, 2003 01:56 PM

i guess what amazes me is how racist america is. on reflection i dont know why this should amaze me.

it is that very specialy ability you have. i think you learned it from telejournalism or televangelism as if there is a difference.

i guess i really shouldn't be offended by the general comments on baraka, but it is just so hard to get used to it, i guess if i watch more of that idiot o'reilly factor the complete inability to read will seem more normal

Posted by: ron on February 12, 2003 09:56 PM

Right on brother Baraka....Right on!

Posted by: Sista on May 27, 2003 11:25 PM

Some very interesting comments, to a strange story. Interesting though, that the interviewer wanted pages and references from a poet. I don't think most poets write like that, but from a general view or idea.
Also interesting to see that Jews, who were quick to pounce on him for his views now are the same group that propped him up in the 50's as Leroi Jones, and celebrated his anti-White and communist views.

Posted by: X on June 14, 2003 10:57 AM

Earth calling all you racist white people who post criticisms of a profound hero of the Black American Masses as if he were some kind of mental patient. All of you need to realize that you are on planet earth. A planet that for the last few centuries has been ravaged, enslaved, stolen and colonized by white people. Every since white people emerged from little bitty Europe they generally have did nothing but make war and take over people & /or land from every other "race" on the planet including but not limited to Africans, Asians, Aboriginal Austrialians, Native Americans. To sit here and act like it is unusal &/or a crime for a member of one of these oppressed races to have "white hate" is some other planet, spaced-out behavior. If I was white I would hate myself for all the wrong that we have done to the rest of the people of the planet. I'm sure many of you who post these anti-baraka remarks have a little self-hatred yourselves & either are not aware of it or don't want to admit it. Baraka is a freedom fighter & a champion of the 1st amendment rights you are all exercising to bash him. So before you bash baraka, bash your white racist legacy.

peace & blessings to you all

Posted by: Marcel Diallo on July 2, 2003 10:51 AM

Marcel Diallo, the only thing that needs to be checked is your racism. The Poet Laureate receives a stipend paid for by New Jersey taxpayers. Taxpayers do not need to subsidize hate speach. If the so-called Amiri Baraka ( his real name is Leroi Jones) wants to write racist poetry and hate speach, let him. Just don't ask the taxpayers of NJ to subsidize his racist rants.

Posted by: James on July 2, 2003 06:56 PM

Interesting that this "writer"--Sharkansky alludes towards the end that Amiri Baraka may be suffering from a "substance abuse" problem. Interesting choice of words--not unlike Baraka---what could you mean by that? And how easily that comes into your mind to equate an African American with a "substance abuse" problem. We have freedom of speech in this country so even though you made a racist remark I am not trying to smear your name. Freedom of speech means freedom of speech before 9-11 and after 9-11. Not asking questions about our government is tantamount to accepting facism.

Posted by: Alex on July 8, 2003 11:57 AM


Posted by: JONATHAN on August 4, 2003 01:54 PM

So much hate and misunderstanding from everyone. Its disgusting. I am white, Im part Italian but look quite aryan. I don't hate white people. I have a deep seated feeling of guilt and sadness for the wrongs my people have committed and are still committing to this day. Greedy and skiddish white people have been raping the planet for the past few centuries. Anyone here ever heard of the Dependency theory for the worlds distribution of wealth and power. Look it up if you haven't. Baraka makes a lot of good points in his poem, as well as ambiguous ones and ones that I dont neccessarily agree with. But how can you question an esteemed intellectuals mental health over a stated opinion or belief in a poem. If you want to judge a mans mental standing on his public proclomations I think you should start with our commander and chief. As some of the other posts have said he did it to stir up controversy and thought. It seems some of you were confused by those thoughts and let your selves become angered. I hope its just confusion, most likely its ignorance. Some of you would never dream of calling your selves racists, and would be offended if anyone did. People get to hung up on the idea of race to seperate right from wrong and truth from untruth. Dont trust blindly, speculate, most importantly dont let the confusion breed hate. I aint no poet just your garden variety HUMAN tryin to show it. Violence begets violence, and our silence begets silence. Of course Baraka is angry wouldnt you be if your people enslaved and forced from their homes. To many whites say its been four hundred years get over it. Four hundred years since it begin, its only been 100 and change since it ended. And since then many white people have done everything in their power to keep blacks at the basest level. Our ancestors tried to deny a people its humanity. Shit our grandparents ignored it. To top it all off Baraka has some white blood in him like a lot of other African Americans who have been in this country several generations. This blood did not come from a consenual relationship, no most likely a slave master raped some ancestor of his. How would you feel if you were related to the man who denied your humanity. IF you had that mans blood flowing through your veins, but his spit on your face, how would you feel. Much love and Peace

Posted by: andrew scorza on August 4, 2003 09:53 PM

So I spelled it, and he repeated "H-A-R-C-V"...

Did it occur to you that perhaps his age and/or hearing caused him to misunderstand you?
He's 67, is he not?
Plenty of people from the non-internet generation cannot recall URLs or even know to what the term refers. It is not surprising to me that he had trouble with those questions. Nevertheless, I find his record with certain groups troubling, his later poetry repetitive, derivative and inferior to his early work, and the way he abandoned his first wife apalling. But I do not expect him to hear particularly well over the phone or to be particularly internet saavy.

Posted by: agingpoet on October 29, 2004 01:39 AM

My name is Ed Bowers. I am a poet from San Francisco in hellish diaspora in San Antonio Texas.

Poets function as warning and give voice to a multiple of personalities. Unfortunatley few are intelligent enough to decipher those warnings.

Baraka is a genius

Posted by: ed bowers on September 15, 2005 02:29 PM

My name is Ed Bowers. I am a poet from San Francisco in hellish diaspora in San Antonio Texas.

Poets function as warning and give voice to a multiple of personalities. Unfortunatley few are intelligent enough to decipher those warnings.

Baraka is a genius

Posted by: ed bowers on September 15, 2005 02:29 PM

My name is Ed Bowers. I am a poet from San Francisco in hellish diaspora in San Antonio Texas.

Poets function as warning and give voice to a multiple of personalities. Unfortunatley few are intelligent enough to decipher those warnings.

Baraka is a genius

Posted by: ed bowers on September 15, 2005 02:30 PM

My name is Ed Bowers. I am a poet from San Francisco in hellish diaspora in San Antonio Texas.

Poets function as warning and give voice to a multiple of personalities. Unfortunatley few are intelligent enough to decipher those warnings.

Baraka is a genius

Posted by: ed bowers on September 15, 2005 02:30 PM
New comments may be posted only from the 'Comments' links at the bottom of each entry on the blog home page