Amiri Baraka’s ‘S O S’

15rankine-articleLargeClaudia Rankine at The New York Times:

Amiri Baraka eulogized James Baldwin on Dec. 8, 1987, by saying: “He was all the way live, all the way conscious, turned all the way up, receiving and broadcasting. . . . He always made us know we were dangerously intelligent and as courageous as the will to be free.”

This eulogy can aptly be turned back on Baraka himself, as “S O S: Poems 1961-2013” arrives a year after his own death. The sweeping collection, selected by Paul Vangelisti, begins with poems from Baraka’s first collection, “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” (1961), and ends with unpublished work written up to 2013.

Baraka began his career in the company of the Black Mountain School (Charles Olson, Robert Duncan), the Beats (Allen Ginsberg) and the New York School (Frank O’Hara), among others. He published “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” as LeRoi Jones, a downtown hipster dad of two daughters, married to the white and Jewish Hettie Jones. Many of his early poems are meditative lyrics in conversation with Ginsberg, Duncan, Gary Snyder and Olson, to name a few. The assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 brought Jones’s life as he knew it to a sudden close. He would leave his wife, children and poetic community; move uptown to Harlem; and eventually across the Hudson River back home to Newark, where he was born in 1934.

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