Scenes from Amiri Baraka at the San Francisco Public Library

YouTube videos from We Are Already in the Future: Amiri Baraka at the San Francisco Public Library can be found here.

Flickr pictures from We Are Already in the Future: Amiri Baraka at the San Francisco Public Library can be found here.

Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music
Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music

Amiri Baraka at the San Francisco Public Library, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009





In a rare West Coast appearance, poet, playwright, essayist and political activist Amiri Baraka delivers a historic speech on our first African-American President, Barack Obama. One of the true giants of international poetry, Amiri Baraka is a towering presence in the history of the United States and throughout the Americas. A transitional figure in both the Beat Generation and Civil Rights Era, Amiri Baraka is also know as the father of the Black Arts Movement. In 2008, during the primary and general election cycles, Amiri Baraka continued to surprise, delight and provoke his friends and enemies with a series of rigorous, inventive, and powerfully deciphering essays on then candidate Barack Obama. With this unique, once in a lifetime, event Amiri Baraka will revisit those essays, and bring his keen, always original, interpretation of the Obama Presidency in it’s first year. The talk will be immediately followed by a discussion with Justin Desmangles, and continue with a question and answer period with the audience.

X-Post: Amiri Baraka responds to the New York Post cartoon

On the New York Post simulation of the murder of the president of the United States
by Amiri Baraka

Naturally we are outraged by Rupert Murdoch’s low rag The New York Post’s depicting Barack Obama as a monkey, whatever garbage they use to lie about this racist attack. But even more deadly is the fact that the Post in that cartoon is actually calling for the assassination of the president of the United States!

And this is punishable by prison.

Can you imagine anyone drawing a picture of Bush being slain, what the consequences would be? In Venezuela Chavez had to pass a law against the right wing calling for his assassination over television. What would be the penalty for some group calling for the assassination of past presidents of the United States by public media.

Complete response is at the San Francisco Bay View

The Post cartoon was bad but its attempt to apologize for it is even worse. The Post has lived off of material like this ever since Murdoch took over. And only now they’re trying to make up for it? And with an apology that acknowledges its history only to say that it doesn’t owe an apology for past insensitivities? Backtrack much?

I know a tabloid does not have a mandate to be sensitive or even responsible but it should at least be consistent; if the Post wants to make money off of racially inflammatory material, then they should own up to it and not go through the farce of issuing an apology.

I Speak of the City: Amiri Baraka

[When did pedestrian become a bad thing? When did it become synonymous with dull and unremarkable?

I ask because it seems to be the adjective of choice for a lot of negative commentary about Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day.” Well, if by pedestrian they also mean that Alexander is commenting on the realities she sees while walking through Town, then I don’t see what’s wrong with being pedestrian.

Take for example the images and commentary from Amiri Baraka’s “Something In The Way Of Things (In Town).” Baraka’s poem reminds the reader that what is dismissed as pedestrian is the same thing that can save your Town, if you are open to seeing the decay in Town and around Town as symptomatic evidence of a deeper problem. Then again, you can be as pedestrian as you want to be misreading all the signs if your “spirit is illiterate.”]

Something In The Way Of Things (In Town)

In town

Something in the way of things
Something that will quit and won’t start
Something you know but can’t stand
Can’t know get along with
Like death
Riding on top of the car peering through the windshield for his cue
Something entirely fictitious and true
That creeps across your path hallowing your evil ways
Like they were yourself passing yourself not smiling
The dead guy you saw me talking to is your boss
I tried to put a spell on him but his spirit is illiterate

I know things you know and nothing you don’t know
‘cept I saw something in the way of things
Something grinning at me and I wanted to know, was it funny?
Was it so funny it followed me down the street
Greeting everybody like the good humor man
But an they got the taste of good humor but no ice cream
It was like dat
Me talking across people into the houses
And not seeing the beings crowding around me with ice picks
You could see them
But they looked like important Negroes on the way to your funeral
Looked like important jiggaboos on the way to your auction
And let them chant the number and use an ivory pointer to count your teeth
Remember Steppen Fetchit
Remember Steppen Fetchit how we laughed
An all your Sunday school images giving flesh and giggling
With the ice pick high off his head
Made ya laugh anyway

I can see something in the way of our selves
I can see something in the way of our selves
That’s why I say the things I do, you know it
But its something else to you
Like that job
This morning when you got there and it was quiet
And the machines were yearning soft behind you
Yearning for that nigga to come and give up his life
Standin’ there bein’ dissed and broke and troubled

My mistake is I kept sayin’ “that was proof that God didn’t exist”
And you told me, “nah, it was proof that the devil do”
But still, its like I see something I hear things
I saw words in the white boy’s lying rag
said he was gonna die poor and frustrated
That them dreams walk which you ‘cross town
S’gonna die from over work
There’s garbage on the street that’s tellin’ you you ain’t shit
And you almost believe it
Broke and mistaken all the time
You know some of the words but they ain’t the right ones
Your cable back on but ain’t nothin’ you can see
But I see something in the way of things
Something to make us stumble
Something get us drunk from noise and addicted to sadness
I see something and feel something stalking us
Like and ugly thing floating at our back calling us names
You see it and hear it too
But you say it got a right to exist just like you and if God made it
But then we got to argue
And the light gon’ come down around us
Even though we remember where the (light or mic) is
Remember the Negro squinting at us through the cage
You seen what I see too?
The smile that ain’t a smile but teeth flying against our necks
You see something too but can’t call its name

Ain’t it too bad y’all said
Ain’t it too bad, such a nice boy always kind to his motha
Always say good morning to everybody on his way to work
But that last time before he got locked up and hurt, real bad
I seen him walkin’ toward his house and he wasn’t smiling
And he didn’t even say hello
But I knew he’d seen something
Something in the way of things that it worked on him like it do in will
And he kept marching faster and faster away from us
And never even muttered a word
Then the next day he was gone
You wanna know what
You wanna know what I’m talkin’ about
Sayin’ “I seen something in the way of things”
And how the boys face looked that day just before they took him away
The is? in that face and remember now, remember all them other faces
And all the many places you’ve seen him or the sister with his child
Wandering up the street
Remember what you seen in your own mirror and didn’t for a second recognize
The face, your own face
Straining to get out from behind the glass
Open your mouth like you was gon’ say somethin’
Close your eyes and remember what you saw and what it made you feel like
Now, don’t you see something else
Something cold and ugly
Not invisible but blended with the shadow criss-crossing the old man
Squatting by the drug store at the corner
With is head resting uneasily on his folded arms
And the boy that smiled and the girl he went with

And in my eyes too
A waving craziness splitting them into the jet stream of a black bird
Wit his ass on fire
Or the solomNOTness of where we go to know we gonna be happy

I seen something
I SEEN something
And you seen it too
You seen it too
You just can’t call it’s name

© Amiri Baraka

“Something In The Way Of Things (In Town)” by Amiri Baraka with music by The Roots

How’m I doing?

I am near the end of my current journal–the one where I keep all my notes from workshop, first drafts, half thoughts, and stolen conversations. It’s also holding the quickly jotted lines and author banter from the last few readings I’ve attended. These notes is what has been helping me recall the little details at a poetry reading and transfer that to my recent blog recaps.

While it is a task to listen to the reading and scribbling observations; it’s also a great joy to look over these lines of poetry that are not pure lines of poetry but my best memory of these pure lines of poetry. I try to differentiate what is a perfectly transcripted line and what is my attempt to hold together a start word and end word with what I heard and what I saw or felt as I am processing the words.

But that’s part of the joy of a good live reading, which to me is still the purest form of poetry. Yes, I love books and the feel of a book in my head and the experience of having the text speak to me but I also realize that I am prone to read in the most comfortable place I can find and at the hours it is most convenient to me. I also have a bad habit of putting down a poem that I am not ready for, maybe it’s hitting too close to home or too far from where I am but either way it’s a struggle for me to get through some books even the ones I love, or better stated, have grown to love. The live reading is cool in that I give myself up the event and the poet: Ok, hit me with your best shot.

For the most part, I remain optimistic about readings and try to keep my expectations for the poetry high but my presumptions of the poet low so that I can let the key poet factors sink in: voice, cadence, stress, tone, arc of movement, ambient noise, silence, pause, facial expressions, et al; while also taking into account the external factors: venue, curator, sound system, ambient noise, audience, et al.

So am I doing a good job at these recaps? Well, you can be the judge as YouTube has been my new poetry vice and I am having a blast looking for true gems in poetry. Recently found: Neruda in his own voice, Felipe Luciano of the Last Poets introducing Salsa great Eddie Palmieri with a poem, and an interview with Ocatvio Paz.

I’ve also found some videos of reading I have recapped which is a good opportunity to see how accurate my recaps really are.

Amiri Baraka at Lunch Poems and at the Holloway Series. Recap can be found here.

Craig Santos Perez at the Holloway Series. Recap can be found here.

This reminds me that I should get around to posting more on Mackey’s half of the Holloway reading, the influence his work has had on Craig’s newer work (some of which I heard on Saturday at the Artifact series), and some other good readings I’ve been lucky enough to attend lately.