|Mr. Baraka and me at the Dodge Poetry Festival in 2010|
"What do we do when the poets die?" asked Maya Angelou during an AP phone interview on the death of her friend Amiri Baraka.
What do we do? We remember them.
I did not know Mr. Baraka well. I'd spoken with him on a few occasions and have heard him read over the years. I was there at the 2002 Dodge Poetry Fest when he read his now infamous poem "Someone Blew Up America." And I was there in 2010 when he was asked back to Dodge--and read the same controversial poem. Talk about bold. Unlike the first time, however, the audience gave him a standing ovation. I was never sure if adulation was for the poem, the in-your-face attitude in reading that particular poem, or for his 76th birthday. I would like to think it was for all of those things.
Mr. Baraka was smart, funny, complicated, prolific, ground-breaking, thought-provoking, riveting--far from perfect. Impossible to ignore.
Rest in Power.
Hear Amiri Baraka in his own words in this NPR interview with Terri Gross in 1986.