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Poet and former black militant Amiri Baraka dies

DEATH: Amiri Baraka in 1972 (PA)

AMERICAN POET and black rights campaigner Amiri Baraka has died.

The 79-year-old passed away in a hospital in New Jersey after spending a month there following poor health.

Born in New Jersey with the given name of Everett LeRoi Jones, the famous poet and writer of essays and short stories first came onto the literary scene in association with the Beat generation wordsmiths, including contemporaries Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

After gaining national prominence for his poetry and publishing his debut collection in 1961, Baraka used his position to promote the rights of black Americans and later became involved in the militant black power movement.

He used his birth name until 1960 when he visited Cuba and decided to later change it to Amiri Baraka.

Never afraid to speak out and write against the norm, he helped establish the Black Arts Movement following the assassination of Malcolm X.

In his Black Art manifesto he published in 1966, Baraka wrote: “We want poems that kill.

“The Black Artist's role in America is to aid in the destruction of America as he knows it.”

In post 9-11 America the poet caused controversy after he published the poem Somebody Blew Up America as New Jersey poet laureate in 2002.

Baraka refused to listen for calls for him to step down from his post following accusations of anti-Semitism. Instead, then New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey decided to pass through a state law making the position of poet laureate obsolete.

Described as a “polarising poet… of pulsating rage” in The New York Times by Margalit Fox, Baraka lived a life where he tested the boundaries of the establishment and crafted words as spears to chuck at those he believed abused their power.

Below is Baraka’s poem Notes For a Speech

African blues
does not know me. Their steps, in sands
of their own
land. A country
in black & white, newspapers
blown down pavements
of the world. Does
not feel
what I am.

Strength

in the dream, an oblique
suckling of nerve, the wind
throws up sand, eyes
are something locked in
hate, of hate, of hate, to
walk abroad, they conduct
their deaths apart
from my own. Those
heads, I call
my "people."

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