Amiri Baraka- It’s Nations Time

amiri baraka 2

The Background:

Hailed as the father of the Black Arts Movement, the late Amiri Baraka, a Newark-born poet, essayist, and literary critic, is perhaps the most revered yet polarizing figure in African-American arts. An admirer of the Beat generation, Baraka spent his young adulthood reading the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg [3]. His rise to prominence began with publishing Beat literature and writing for politically left papers—include the papers he started. It was the death of Malcolm X that inspired LeRoi Jones to formally become Amiri Baraka. A lifelong exposure to racism and the plight of working African-American families urged Baraka to join the Civil Rights movement [2]. His profile was heightened by his desire to be on the forefront and his fiery style of oratory, known to rivet college audiences during guest lectures [3]. Baraka was a passionate live performer who enjoyed spoken word just as he did written word. His poetry, written in free verse, is intended for a spoken forum.

amiri baraka

The Collection:

While Baraka is remembered as a remarkably influential member of the Black Arts Movement, his memory is not without blemishes. While lines of his poetry are taken by proponents of Black Nationalism, others are used to critique Baraka and his blatant assault on other minority groups. Baraka spoke to a higher sense of duty for his African-American brethren, urging them to rise above petty distractions and stay alert to the core of racism and where it stems from [2]. In this vein, Baraka was won to cast aspersions on many types of people, even liberal blacks of the counterculture movement, who partook in recreational drugs and the dress morays of the hippie movement, which Baraka thought detrimental to advancement of the African-American people [1]. Consistently a critic, Baraka was unafraid to criticize his peers within the movement, and voiced frustration regarding the movement at large. Perhaps most indicative of his inner turmoil is Baraka’s short poetry collection It’s Nations Time, a polemic series of three that prods African-American activists and the status quo of the movement. The title takes its name from a popularized phrase where a speaker would ask the rhetorical question, “What time is it?” and the crowd would respond with “It’s nations time!” Jesse Jackson famously used this rallying cry in 1972 at the National Black Political Convention [1].

The first poem in the collection is called “The Nation is Like Ourselves,” and serves as a reminder of all our political and social realities. Baraka suggests that we are no better or worse than we allow ourselves to be. That our positions are reflective of the larger picture around us, of what we accept all around us. Baraka, in a simple, poignant message, asserts that “what ever we are doing, is what the nation is doing or not doing, is what the nation is being or not being” [1]. Baraka proceeds, and lays into the contemporaries that have him disillusioned with the movement. He is critical of bourgeois intellectuals and their motives for writing, and critical of countercultural youth who askew racial identity for the concept of oneness [1]. Contrarily, Baraka preaches unity through understanding and love for one another as a nation with a pure freedom.

 

Works Cited

[1] Watts, Jerry. Amiri Baraka : The Politics and Art of a Black Intellectual . New York, US: NYU Press, 2001. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 19 April 2017.

 

[2] Smethurst, James : “Pat Your Foot and Turn the Corner”: Amiri Baraka, the black Arts Movement, and the Poetics of a Popular Avant-Garde, African American Review, 37:2-3 (Summer-Fall 2003), p.261-270.

 

[3] Fox, Margalit. “Amiri Baraka, Polarizing Poet and Playwright, Dies at 79.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.

4 thoughts on “Amiri Baraka- It’s Nations Time”

  1. I did my post on the 1967 Black Power Conference where Baraka was on the planning committee for the entire event. There was actually a bit on him there because it was a starting point for his popularity. The conference was shortly after his arrest in the Newark riots, so when he gave his lecture he was still wrapped up in bandages from his wounds inflicted by the police. Last year he was remembered at a similar conference held in Newark as well.

  2. I’m so glad someone did Amiri Baraka! I found it so interesting as I was writing my own article on Gil Scott Heron to see how the two intersected, both lyrically and politically, and how they can be traced back to the origins of rap. It’s also fascinating to see how modern rap/ hip-hop groups are drawing influence from these artists again as they write music about the current Black Lives Matter Movement. Great article!

Leave a Reply