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News ::
New Jersey Poet Lauriate, Amiri Baraka, Won't Resign Post (english)
02 Oct 2002
Modified: 06 Oct 2002
New Jersey Poet Lauriate, Amiri Baraka, refuses to resign because of his poem, "Somebody Blew-Up America" which implicates Israel (& Bush) in 9/11. Can be Heard on the NYC IndyMedia site.
N.J. poet laureate won't resign over 9/11 poem
By Matthew Purdy
NEWARK, N.J. - Just before Gov. James E. McGreevey introduced Amiri Baraka last
month as New Jersey's new poet laureate, the celebrated and controversial activist writer
said he warned the governor this might happen.
"I said, 'Governor, you're going to catch a lot of hell for this,' " Baraka said. "He said, 'I
don't care.' I said, 'If you don't care, I don't care.' "
Baraka still doesn't care.
But the governor suddenly does. Political turmoil has found the last virgin turf in New
Jersey public life: the poet laureate.
The governor has demanded that Baraka resign because a poem he read at a poetry
festival 10 days ago said Israel had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. Baraka is
refusing to resign. The governor's aides say McGreevey lacks the power to remove
Baraka, since he was selected by a committee of poets and cultural aficionados. That
group has obtained a legal opinion saying it can only select, not oust, laureates.
Besides, poets are usually ignored, not censored. "A sticky wicket," said a statehouse aide,
apparently practicing for the laureate's job, should it open up.
In his offending poem, titled "Somebody Blew Up America," a litany of massacres and
oppression, Baraka refers to five Israelis filming the attacks, and asks:
"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?"
"Terrorized for years"
In an interview Thursday, the day before the governor demanded his resignation, Baraka
was unrepentant. The artist formerly known as LeRoi Jones has had so many phases -
Greenwich Village beatnik, Harlem black nationalist, bloodied warrior of the 1967
Newark riots, Marxist, critic of Newark mayors - that he seemed unfazed by the rocky
start of his laureate phase.
Told that he offended people, he said: "I know. What can I do? I'm not perfect, alas."
Reading the Internet convinced him that Israel knew about Sept. 11 beforehand.
"Obviously they knew about it, like Bush knew about it," he said. Espousing a theory
popular in parts of the Muslim world, he said the White House let it happen to get "carte
blanche" to have its way with Afghanistan, Iraq, the rest of the Middle East.
President Bush knew in advance? "Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely, absolutely."
And Baraka added: "So did the Russians, so did the Germans. Why do you think investors
sold their stock in United and American Airlines the month before?"
Baraka's career at the keyboard and on the street has been guided by the view that the
powerful conspire against the powerless. "Terrorism," he said. "Black people. We've been
terrorized for years. There's been no alert to stop the KKK and the skinheads."
Suspicious of power
Over the years, Baraka has been lauded and accused every which way. The American
Academy of Arts and Letters called him "one of the most important African-American
poets since Langston Hughes" when it inducted him last year. He pleads guilty to the
communist label and said he regrets his early anti-white writings. In 1980, he wrote a
self-defense titled "Confessions of a Former Anti-Semite."
Baraka, 67, gray and slightly hunched, holds court in a large house in a faded Newark
neighborhood. His suspicion of power oozes from every pore.
His selection as laureate honored his strong voice, long career and prominence. The
committee chairwoman, Judith Pinch, said that the group felt he could promote poetry
among city youths and that "his strengths outweighed some past reputation for being
slightly outrageous."
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Baraka (english)
06 Oct 2002
Baraka speaks the truth, which is sometimes ugly. Nonetheless, he speaks the truth.