204. Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note: Amiri Baracka

I know, another suicide poem. But this poignant and ends with hope.

I write this a week after Amiri Baracka died. His death made me think about his post 9/11 poem, “somebody blew up america”. It’s quite the polemic. A study in anger–a dream denied (as Langston Hughes observed) just explodes, and Baracka is plenty explosive in this poem. Worth a read. Poet Laureate of New Jersey, at the time. He wasn’t fired for the piece–they just abolished the position while he had it.

He’s an interesting cat, who the Poetry Foundation lists as being “free verse.” Okay. You can read their piece on him here. My question is: Are our most important artists anti-social? Looking at Baraka’s biography, why would someone make him Poet Laureate and expect him NOT to write something that would create controversy? Stir the pot.

And there is room for stirring the pot.

Some do it as Amiri Baraka did. Larkin liked to swear to get attention and make their point. Others, quiet like Emily Dickinson.

Have students look at themselves. Who, in the class, stirs the pot? To what end? Do they serve a positive purpose in the class–a reality check or truth teller? Or are they just vandals and foul mouth punks? What is the profile of the model student? Citizen? Who moves the class forward? Profiles.

Looking at this poem, ask them how they are weird? I have a student who thinks she’s weird because she likes watching the Discovery Channel. Today, I stumbled across a student at a wrestling meet–I hadn’t known he was a wrestler. Last week another revealed he was a fencer. A third let it be known she was into making people up as monsters for horror films.

How do they look at the world? Are they so different?

Looking at the speaker of this poem–someone who is depressed–how does Baraka make their outlier way of seeing the world accessible to the reader? Let’s assume the reader is “normal”. How does he bridge that gap?

Looking at their own oddity, how do they bridge the gap to classroom normalcy? Humor? Secrets? Acceptance? Perhaps their lives are poetry. How does that work? Discuss.

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
Amiri Baraka

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands


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