A great American poet visits Boulder in snowstorm
by Joe Richey
Feb 27, 2010
Poet Amiri Baraka escaped a tremendous snowstorm on one of the last
flights out of Newark, New Jersey to take questions in an open forum
at the University of Colorado's Memorial Center in Boulder on
Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010.
Blinding snow followed the poor old man, and as it accumulated that
afternoon, he spoke to all one hundred or so of us, fielding
questions for over an hour, as the snow, and our prospects for travel
through it, disappeared moment by moment.
Amiri Baraka, at 75 years old, is a pre-eminent African American
poets' essayist playwright, sometimes called "the father of
post-modern Black poetry in America." He gave us the skinny on a
range of topics and subjects after CU Professor Noah Eli Gordon
introduced and cued up the first salvo on his writing process, the
importance of preparation and nerve.
What follows here is a transcription of the first part of his talk:
There was a story I always like to tell that I heard from somebody
who I can't give credit to:
He told me he said,
Billy the Kid and his nephew were walking down the street one day.
They go past this field of reeds.
And the nephew says, "Uncle Billy make me a whistle."
And he said "bkrrrrrr," and he quickly shoots a hole in it.
"How did you do that without aiming?"
He said, "I'm always aiming."
That's the story about the writer.
You're always aiming. Whatever you see or feel or look at is gonna
come out. You might write it down; you might not write it down.
Writing it down is a good idea. The best poets I know, you know when
they go into their pocket man they're bringing out their notebook.
It's a question of study. You can't write without studying. These
people who think that you just write off the top of your head are
boring usually. You have to do a lot of studying. Try to find out
what's happening in the world.
You know Richard Wright used to say that you have to be at the top
of your time.
On many a topic…
Amiri Baraka jabbed at easy targets on this day when Barack Obama
convoked a health care debate with top GOP; e.g., those who would
deprive themselves and others of publicly funded health care,
Condoleezza Rice, etc., but Baraka mostly talked about the importance
of study and not dodging hard questions.
He drew largely from the Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka:
living hard, and fighting hard among hard-hit people. But he warned
that different times demand different art, that his formative
experience and that of his generation was unique.
Afterwards, at the Hotel Boulderado, he talked for two hours more: a
recent festival in Grenada; Nicaragua; the availability of collected
W.E.B. DuBois even as building with the Dubois archive in it in
Northampton, Mass., sinks an inch deeper into the ground.
He talked about Sonny Carson, his education, the funerals for blacks
in Bedford Stuyvesant killed by police violence, his granddaughter at
Howard University next semester at 16, if his papers are going to Columbia.
Baraka stopped briefly to listen to Mark Diamond, another Jersey-born
artist, before heading back to Denver. He read poetry on Friday night
to a packed house at Sturm Hall at the University of Denver.
He'll return during the second week of July as part of The Jack
Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics' Summer Writing Program at
Naropa University in Boulder.
Below: Hear Amiri Baraka, an elder spokesperson for the politically
engaged left, including socialists and communists, still alive but
Audio: Amiri Baraka in Boulder 2/25/1010 (MP3, 1 hr 7 min)