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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Country Is This? Rereading LeRoi Jones’s The Dead Lecturer - Adrienne Rich

Amiri Baraka’s distinguished, embattled history as poet, small–press editor, essayist, playwright, political activist, autobiographer, and public figure is not what I want to write about here—even if I thought I could do it justice. Paul Vangelisti, in his foreword to Transbluesency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, 1961—1995, and Robert Creeley, in a December 1996/January 1997 Boston Review essay, provide valuable perspectives on a major poetic career. But I would urge any serious student of the human scene, certainly any poet, who has not recently, or ever, read The Dead Lecturer: borrow a copy from the public library, from a friend’s bookshelf, or get hold of it secondhand. (“Used,” “As New,” “Slightly Worn,” say the mail–order book catalogues. The copy in my hands, both used and new, in different senses.) Many of the poems are included in Transbluesency, but The Dead Lecturer itself is out of print.
And it is a book, not an assemblage of occasional poems: a soul–journey borne in conflictual music, faultless phrasing. Music, phrasing of human flesh longing for touch, mind fiercely working to decipher its predicament. Titles of poems are set sometimes in bold, sometimes italics, implying structures within the larger structure. Drawing both on black music and the technical innovations of American Modernism, Jones moves deeper into a new poetics, what the poet June Jordan would name “the intimate face of universal struggle.” [thanbks VN for the link]


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