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Tara Betts
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Most major news media outlets were fixated on the New Jersey bridge traffic scandal and Governor Chris Christie’s claims to have no knowledge of an intentional traffic block. However, a more personal loss in the poetry world was also announced today. Early Beat, iconic Black Arts Movement poet, and playwright Amiri Baraka was confirmed dead at age 79 today. He was admitted to Beth Israel Medical Center in December 2013 for unknown reasons, and the cause of death is not clear at this point. Baraka hosted the Kimako’s Blues readings at his home in Newark and continued to publish work in recent years, including Transbluesency: The Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, 1961-1995, the essay collections Razor: Revolutionary Art for Cultural Revolution and Digging: The Afro American Soul of American Classical Music, and a short story collection Tales of the Out and Gone. His recent essay “A Post-Racial Anthology” on the Poetry Foundation blog criticized Charles Rowell’s Angles of Ascent and has been circulating on social media since May 2013. A prolific author, his most popular works include his notable music-related writing in Blues People, the Obie Award-winning play “The Dutchman,” and the highly controversial poem “Somebody Blew Up America” about 9/11, which eventually led to the dissolution of the New Jersey Poet Laureate post. He was also a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. These are some of the details that will appear in most of the articles, like tonight’s New York Times and USA Today, on NPR and BET, and in the New Jersey news. What it will not say is how Baraka was inimitable and still reached out to poets everywhere and kept addressing controversial political stances until the end. Even if people didn’t agree with Baraka, he did challenge people and make them think, which is certainly the occupation of a poet. Baraka reciting "Something in the Way of Things (In Town)" which is also featured on The Roots' 2002 album Phrenology. Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Gwendolyn Brooks was celebrated with her own stamp alongside Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E.E. Cummings, Robert Hayden, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams in 2012. One of the questions that I had in 2013 was answered recently. The papers of Gwendolyn Brooks have found an archival home at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana. According to The Chicago Tribune, the poet’s daughter Nora Brooks-Blakely had been searching for a home for her mother’s papers since 2002. I had hoped the papers would stay in her beloved Chicago, possibly at Chicago State University on the South Side that she documented and where she lived in all of her life, but they are still in Illinois. Some of her papers were given to University of California-Berkeley in 2001, and apparently Brooks herself was there to make the announcement with Robert Hass. As the first African American poet to the win the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Brooks is mentioned in countless critical studies and has been memorialized with a 2012 U.S. Postal Service stamp. There is also a marker for Brooks in Bronzeville, the community she celebrated in her first poetry collection A Street in Bronzeville. For scholars who would like to do deeper critical analyses or more book-length examinations of Brooks’ work, this access opens even more possibilities. Brooks' 1945 collection A Street in Bronzeville beside a marker for Brooks on Chicago's Bronzeville. When the posthumous 2003 collection In Montgomery, and Other Poems was released, I found myself wondering what else might be available. Now, there is a chance to expand upon the existing scholarship, even if Brooks does not have her likeness beside Carl Sandburg in The Poetry Garage, a parking structure in the Chicago Loop area. Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Where are the black women on SNL and in poetry on Zora Neale Hurston's birthday? Continue reading
Posted Jan 7, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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How the biting cold reinforces the idea of warmth and finds its parallels in poetry. Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2014 at The Best American Poetry