Interviews Essay, Research Paper

David Ossman

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

shaped it.

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

the text?

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.

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