William W. Cook: On "Black Art"

"Black Art" is as close as the poet came to an ars poetica for the new poetry; such a poetry must avoid "artiness," and the poet demonstrates this in its avoidance of the lyrical voice and of stock poetic diction, and in its use of ideophones.

            Airplane poems, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

rrrrrrrrrrrrr . . . tuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh

. . . rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr . . . Setting fire and death to

whities ass.

The poem employs suggestions not only of the poem as airplane straffing the enemy but also the death of that enemy.

Aggh . . . stumbles across the room . . .

Put it on him, poem. Strip him naked

To the world!

Poetry is not, as art form, separate from the violent struggles of the people; it is and must be a weapon in that struggle.

                        We want live

Words of the hip world live flesh &

Coursing blood. Hearts Brains

Souls splintering fire.

Poems must be fists, daggers, and poison gas. They are the weapons of the warriors who will accomplish that destruction which will usher in a new world. They will "clean out the world for virtue and love." They will be about love only when the new day arrives, that day on which

                Black People understand

That they are the lovers and the sons

of lovers and warriors and sons

of warriors Are poems & Poets &

All the loveliness here in the world

Neither language nor form here can be directly attributed to early models (Creeley, Olson, Ginsberg). The language is that of the black community ("put it on him," "girdle mamma mulatto bitches," "red jelly stuck / between ‘lizabeth Taylor’s toes.") and, shocking for many readers, names the enemies of that community ("wops or slick half white / politicians," "the Liberal / Spokesman for the Jews," "a Negro leader pinned to / a bar stool in Sardi’s," "cops and niggers"). This is hardly the lyrical effusion of the postromantic divided and alienated self of the first two volumes. Popular culture remains a reference, but it is no longer a site for nostalgic musings on the Green Lantern, the Shadow, and other popular figures (see "In Memory of Radio"), now becoming source and justification of a violent resistance central to new life.

From "The Black Arts Poets," from The Columbia History of American Poetry. Copyright © 1993 by Columbia University Press.

Details

Criticism Overview
Title William W. Cook: On "Black Art" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author William W. Cook Criticism Target Amiri Baraka
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 05 Apr 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Columbia History of American Poetry
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