Name curator: Joe Richey/Alternative Radio
Name artist: Amiri Baraka
Title of the work you have chosen: Real Politics, Real poetry
Year of production: recorded at Naropa University, July 6, 2012
Format: mp3

This month we have something we had never before: An audio-podcast of Alternative Radio on poet Amiri Baraka. Please listen.

About the curator
Name: Joe Richey
Function: Manager and Editor at Alternative Radio
What is your main interest: heightened use of political and poetic speech.
Where do you come from/ where do you live: Raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a neighbor to Newark where poet Amiri Baraka lived nearly his entire adult life. I live in Boulder, Colorado where Amiri Baraka visited regularly to lecture at Naropa University.

About the track and the artist:

What can you tell about this work? I had been recording Amiri Baraka 6 or 7 times, interviewing him in Newark and Boulder. His visits to Boulder were often hosted by Naropa University, a buddhist college founded by Chögyum Trunga Pinpoche and Allen Ginsberg. He also lectured on the work of his friend and poet Edward Dorn at the University of Colorado. This recording includes a lecture given at Naropa during their Summer Writing Program, and excerpts from a poetry reading at The Laughing Goat Coffeehouse in Boulder, Colorado.

How does this relate to the theme ‘politics and poetry’ in your opinion? He talks about politics, culture and art from an African American perspective, and urges us all to write to effect change on the world.

Are politics and poetry (or politics and arts) two separate worlds according to you? Why / why not? Baraka tells us that "poetry, politics and reality are three vectors of the same thing." Poets like Amiri Baraka work at the center of intellectual life, covering topics in economics, philosophy, history and politics. Yet it can also be said the poets who help unite us through a shared recognition in a piece of writing, are also engaged in the political act of highlighting our shared humanity and perception.

There are a lot of political tensions and changes in the world right now. Do you (already) notice any changes in the focus and/or ideas and work of artists because of these developments? Do you have examples? When the traditionalist POETRY magazine, the most well-endowed poetry publication in the United States issued an Eco-justice edition, January 2016, you know there is an opening for activist poetics.

Besides the theme of ‘Politics and poetry’ are there any other comparisons between this artist and Ivens according to you? Amiri Baraka was a cultural icon and an iconoclast. He rose to fame in the 1960s as LeRoi Jones. His 1964 off-Broadway play, Dutchman created a sensation. Later he became Amiri Baraka and was a central figure in the Black Arts movement. He was an award-winning playwright and poet and recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was the author of many books including the classic Blues People. He was brilliant as a homeless sage in the movie Bulworth. His politics were uncompromisingly radical. Through his work he explored the parameters of African-American culture, history, memory, racism, class struggle and political power relationships.  As an orator he had a distinct and urgent style.  He had a special affinity for jazz and such titans as John Coltrane, Max Roach, and Thelonious Monk. He once said of himself, I’m a revolutionary optimist. I believe that the good guys—the people—are going to win.” He died in 2014. Thousands turned out in his hometown of Newark to honor him.


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