“Black Art” by Amiri Baraka

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, NJ. The weekend was fast-paced and my experience there included conversations with and readings from Yusef Komunyakaa, Stephen Kuusisto, Patrick Rosal, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Brian Turner, , Rebecca Lindenberg, Bridget Talone Dan Vera, C. Dale Young, Sharon Olds, Billy Collins, Alex Lemon, Alberto Rios, Brenda Shaughnessy, Rita Dove, Gary Snyder and more.

Sunday afternoon, I heard a stirring tribute to Amiri Baraka. 

Marilyn Nelson read this poem, “Black Art.”

Her introduction to the poem was moving—she gave permission to easily offended listeners to leave the auditorium. As she had done with her students before, she warned that the poem contained language that might offend the easily offended. Her caveat: She refused to apologize for the poem. Poetry is supposed to provoke, make you uncomfortable. Challenge the reader, she said. This is not a commercial for Dove soap, it is art. Anyway, here’s the poem. A truly wonderful experience to have been a part of. 

Thank you, Newark.

Black Art

Poems are bullshit unless they are
teeth or trees or lemons piled
on a step. Or black ladies dying
of men leaving nickel hearts
beating them down. Fuck poems
and they are useful, wd they shoot
come at you, love what you are,
breathe like wrestlers, or shudder
strangely after pissing. We want live
words of the hip world live flesh &
coursing blood. Hearts Brains
Souls splintering fire. We want poems
like fists beating niggers out of Jocks
or dagger poems in the slimy bellies
of the owner-jews. Black poems to
smear on girdlemamma mulatto bitches
whose brains are red jelly stuck
between ‘lizabeth taylor’s toes. Stinking
Whores! we want “poems that kill.”
Assassin poems, Poems that shoot
guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys
and take their weapons leaving them dead
with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland. Knockoff
poems for dope selling wops or slick halfwhite
politicians Airplane poems, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr . . .tuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh
. . .rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr . . . Setting fire and death to
whities ass. Look at the Liberal
Spokesman for the jews clutch his throat
& puke himself into eternity . . . rrrrrrrr
There’s a negroleader pinned to
a bar stool in Sardi’s eyeballs melting
in hot flame Another negroleader
on the steps of the white house one
kneeling between the sheriff’s thighs
negotiating coolly for his people.
Aggh . . . stumbles across the room . . .
Put it on him, poem. Strip him naked
to the world! Another bad poem cracking
steel knuckles in a jewlady’s mouth
Poem scream poison gas on beasts in green berets
Clean out the world for virtue and love,
Let there be no love poems written
until love can exist freely and
cleanly. Let Black people understand
that they are the lovers and the sons
of warriors and sons
of warriors Are poems & poets &
all the loveliness here in the world
We want a black poem. And a
Black World.
Let the world be a Black Poem
And Let All Black People Speak This Poem
Silently
or LOUD

Source: Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1979)