Skip to comments.NJ poet laureate refuses to resign, despite ADL charges of anti-Semitism
Posted on 10/01/2002 2:47:59 PM PDT by Jacob Kell
New Jersey's poet laureate Amiri Baraka, who wrote a poem blaming Israel for the September 11 attack, is refusing to resign despite calls from the governor, James McGreevey, and charges of "anti-New Jersey, anti-American and anti-Semitic venom" by the local Anti-Defamation League.
Last week, McGreevey called on Baraka, who was appointed in August, to resign after the poet laureate read out a work entitled Somebody Blew Up America, at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo, New Jersey. The poem, which reportedly earned Baraka boos from audience members, prompted the ADL to categorize it as the same kind of anti-Semitic hate rhetoric that filled Arab and Muslim newspapers and airwaves after September 11.
The 226-line poem reads, in part, "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed/ Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers/To stay home that day/ Why did Sharon stay away?"
Another stanza reads, "Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion/ And cracking they sides at the notion."
Written in 2001, most of the poem focuses on America's alleged ills, including the following stanza, "Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for/ Who doo doo come out the Colon's mouth/ Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza/ Who pay Connelly to be a wooden Negro/ Who give Genius Awards to Homo Locus/ Subsidere." After Baraka's festival reading, McGreevey, whose state lost hundreds of civilians on September 11, called for Baraka's resignation from his two-year, $10,000 appointment but elicited no apology from the poet, a 67-year old Black American whose original name was LeRoi Jones.
The state, however, has no functional power to remove him from his post, which was created by a 1999 statute, or revoke payment of his honorarium, according to officials. Meanwhile, Baraka is sticking by the widely discredited conspiracy theory that Jews were responsible for the attacks and refusing to apologize.
"Everything said about Israel in the poem is easily researched," he told the New York Times.
On Monday, the regional director of the ADL's New Jersey office, Shai Goldstein, said the organization is approaching the state's humanities and arts officials who appointed Baraka to his post to find a way to call for his resignation.
"The publication of the poem is offensive on a number of levels," said Goldstein. "It's a desecration of all those who died on 9-11. It's an insult to those who are suffering with the deaths of family members, and it's an injury to those who escaped death and have physical and emotional scars from 9-11," he said.
In a press release, Goldstein and the group's chairman-elect, William Davidson, said that the ideas espoused by Baraka's poem are "directly linked with the anti-American xenophobia that caused such destruction and the murder of so many Americans. Mr. Baraka can best effectuate an apology to New Jersey and America by resigning," they wrote.
"As a poet, Mr. Baraka may say what he chooses, no matter how ugly, irresponsible or deceptive," they continued. "However, we don't believe that the residents of New Jersey, nor their representatives should have such anti-New Jersey, anti-American and anti-Semitic venom spewed in their name."
But unless the state finds a way to overturn its own statute, it looks like the poet, who told the New York Times that the allegations in his poem can be backed up with Internet research, is here to stay until his term expires in 2004.
Asked about the allegations that both the Sharon administration know about the attacks beforehand, he told the Times: "If you criticize Israel, they hide behind the religion and call you anti-Semitic."
Amiri Baraka, also known as LeRoi Jones and Imamu Amiri Baraka, is one of the main leaders and inspirations of the BAM. Born in Newark, NJ, in 1934 to a middle-class family, Baraka attended Rutgers University then transferred to receive his degree from Howard University. Baraka served in the military for three years before settling in Greenwich Village in New York, at the heart of the Beat scene.
Baraka began writing seriously and with first wife, Hettie Cohen, founded the influential Beat literary journal, Yugen. Baraka then grew in notority when he won the Obie, awarded by the Village Voice newspaper, an off-Broadway award, for his play, Dutchman.
With his new found reputation, Baraka opened the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BART/S) in 1964. The BART/S became one of the most influential theatre/schools within the BAM and brought music, art, poetry and drama to the street corners of Harlem.
It was during this time that Baraka began to distance himself from the white culture. When Malcom X was assasinated in 1965, and after the closing of the BART/S, Baraka picked up and moved to Harlem, divorced his white wife, changed his name and adapted a Black nationalist view.
Baraka then married Amina Baraka, formerly known as Sylvia Robinson, and founded Spirithouse in Newark, NJ. Baraka was involved in almost every aspect of the beginning of the BAM and also in many other Black political and cultural movements, including participation with the Black Pather Party for Self Defense.
Since his days of the BAM, Baraka has abandoned his previous black nationalist views in favor of Marxism and the fight of the working class against the bourgeoisie. He continues to write and speaks frequently at colleges and universities nation-wide.
State Poet? He serves a term?
What a truly moronic law. If the Gov signed it, he should resign. Otherwise criticize and forget it, and him.
"Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion/ And cracking they sides at the notion."
My dog barks better in English (her French is not so good).
Seriously, regarldless of venom, is this the best poetry that is now written? Poetry is a particularly difficult form of expression, but it must express something. I did not know that passing air through lips was poetry.
it seems to me like there are two Barakas and I can't explain it. It does look like a consultation with a psychiatrist is long overdue here.
But enough analyzing evil: let us contain it first, regardless of its nature. The last 80 or more years of Western civilization have been wasted on the preoccupation with that task --- understanding evil --- to the point that film director could publicly declare a couple of years ago, "Good is boring; evil is interesting." I understand him: how else can an ignoramus rise in society? Let us declare the truly difficult and useful tasks, such as understanding good, unnecessary --- that clears the path for the mediocrity in our midst.
Don't squat over an ant trying to analyze his trajectory in the garden --- and this "laureate," Mr. Baraka, is indeed an ant. Get up and walk towards something big that is truly mystifying.
"Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for/ Who doo doo come out the Colon's mouth/ Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza/ Who pay Connelly to be a wooden Negro/ Who give Genius Awards to Homo Locus/ Subsidere."
I'm gonna kill my landlord, kill my landlord
C-I-L-L my landlord.
Poetry time in Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood.
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