Interviews Essay, Research Paper
What [did you learn from] . . . the Black Mountain people, and [William Carlos]
From Williams, mostly how to write in my own language—how to write the way I speak
rather than the way I think a poem ought to be written—to write just the way
it comes to me, in my own speech, utilizing the rhythms of speech rather than any kind of
metrical concept. To talk verse. Spoken verse. From Pound, the same concepts that went
into the Imagist’s poetry—the idea of the image and what an image ought to be. I
learned, probably, about verse from Pound—how a poem should be made, what a poem
ought to look like—some little inkling. And from Williams, I guess, how to
get it out in my own language.
[. . . .]
Does your being a Negro influence the speech patterns—or anything else, for that
matter, in your writing?
It could hardly help it. There are certain influences on me, as a Negro person, that
certainly wouldn’t apply to a poet like Allen Ginsberg. I couldn’t have written
that poem "Kaddish," for instance. And I’m sure he couldn’t write
certain things that have to deal with, say, Southern Baptist church rhythms. Everything
applies—everything in your life. Sociologically, there are different influences,
different things that I’ve seen, that I know, that Allen or no one knows.
From The Sullen Art. Copyright ? 1963 by David Ossman
Kimberly W. Benston
Benston: How would you do a self-criticism, for example, of The
System of Dante’s Hell?
Baraka: Well, first of all, in terms of form, it tended at times to be
obscure. The reason for that is that is that I was really writing defensively. I was
trying to get away from the influence of people like Creeley and Olson. I was living in
New York then and the whole Creeley-Olson influence was beginning to beat me up. I was in
a very closed, little circle—that was about the time I went to Cuba—and I felt
the need to break out of the type of form that I was using then. I guess this was not only
because of the form itself but because of the content which that form enclosed, which was
not my politics. The two little warring schools that were going on then were what I call
the Jewish-Ethnic-Bohemian School (Allen Ginsberg and his group) and the Anglo-German
Black Mountain School. I was caught between the two of them because they were all literary
buddies and so forth. So I wrote the novel defensively and offensively at the same time
because I was trying to get away. I literally decided to write just instinctively, without
any kind of preunderstanding of what I was shaping-—just write it down.
[. . . .]
Benston: In the early poetry, is there at any point an attempt to
create the same kind of clarity you achieved in System, to attain a similar freedom
from what you’re calling the Creeley-Olson influence?
Baraka: The poetry of that period was still definitely relying heavily
on the Creeley-Olson thing. But, while the Creeley-Olson thing is still here in the
poetry’s form, the content was trying to aggressively address the folks around me,
the people that I worked with all the time, who were all Creeley-Olson types, people who
took an antipolitical line (the Creeley types more so than Olson’s
followers—Olson’s thing was always more political). I was coming out saying that
I thought that their political line was wrong. A lot of the poetry in The Dead
Lecturer is speaking out against the political line of the whole Black Mountain
group, to which I was very close.
From "Amiri Baraka: An Interview" from Boundary 2, Winter
1978. Copyright ? 1978 by boundary 2.
William J. Harris
WJH: It seems that your moving to a longer line in your poetry has to
do with a rejection of the white world, of "white music" if you will.
AB: I think it has to do with the poetry since the sixties being much
more orally conceived rather than manuscript conceived. The poetry is much more intended
to be read aloud, and since the mid-sixties that has been what has spurred it on, has
WJH: Can you talk about this a little more? The latest poetry, some of
the Marxist poetry, seems like it’s really less poetry than it is a score for you to
read. Your readings are incredible and I am wondering are you caring less and less about
AB: It is less important to me. To me it is a score.
WJH: What does this mean? In 200 years when you aren’t around,
are you going to expect people to be listening to tapes of your work?
AB: Yeah, I hope.
WJH: That is really interesting because it means you are moving away
from the idea of the written page.
AB: The page doesn’t interest me that much—not as much as
the actual spoken word. The contradiction with that is that I should be recording all the
time, which I’m not for obvious reasons. I’m much more interested in the spoken
word, and I think that the whole wave of the future is definitely not literary in a sense
of books and is tending toward the spoken and the visual. . . . I think that page will be
used by people who want to read it aloud. The question to me of a poet writing in silence
for people who will read in silence and put it in a library where the whole thing is
conceived in silence and lost forever is about over. And I think it didn’t really
influence many people. I mean if you conceive of how many people are in the world and how
many people ever learned how to read.
From "An Interview with Amiri Baraka," from The Greenfield Review,
Fall 1980, copyright ? 1980 by The Greenfield Review; all rights controlled by
William J. Harris.