S O S
Poems 1961 - 2013by Amiri Baraka
The definitive selection of Amiri Baraka’s dynamic poetry—comprising more than five decades of groundbreaking, controversial work—with new, previously unpublished, and uncollected poems.
Fusing the personal and the political in high-voltage verse, Amiri Baraka—”whose long illumination of the black experience in America was called incandescent in some quarters and incendiary in others” (New York Times)—was one of the preeminent literary innovators of the past century. This volume comprises the fullest spectrum of his rousing, revolutionary poems, from his first collection to previously unpublished pieces composed during his final years.
Throughout Baraka’s career as a prolific writer (also published as LeRoi Jones), he was vehemently outspoken against oppression of African American citizens, and he radically altered the discourse surrounding racial inequality. The environments and social values that inspired his poetics changed during the course of his life, a trajectory that can be traced in this retrospective spanning more than five decades of profoundly evolving subjects and techniques. Praised for its lyricism and introspection, his early poetry emerged from the Beat generation, while his later writing is marked by intensely rebellious fervor and subversive ideology. All along, his primary focus was on how to live and love in the present moment despite the enduring difficulties of human history. Selected and prefaced by Paul Vangelisti, S O S is the essential edition of Baraka’s poetic work.
“[S O S is] a signal of blunt urgency . . . this is undeniably the work of the kind of poet we will not see again; Amiri Baraka was one of the last of the 20th century’s literary lions. This momentous collection exhibits his abiding resistance to almost everything, but subversiveness.” —Terrance Hayes, Publishers Weekly (boxed review)
“One of those rarest of things: poetry that combines a rigorous intellect, high-voltage aesthetics, and a revolutionary’s need to confront his subject. . . . Those who believe, as Baraka did, that art could surpass simple beauty and act as a force for social change will cherish this remarkable volume. . . . Highly recommended.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“What’s best about Baraka’s verse is that his historical sensibility and sense of historical dread bump elbows with anarchic comedy. . . . S O S is the best overall selection we have thus far of Baraka’s work.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times
“These poems cover the ebbs and flows of the modern African-American struggle for freedom and identity . . . There may be no better time than now to experience the lyrical, funny, dynamic, and provocative poetry of Amiri Baraka . . . S O S is the perfect place to hear the voice that influenced, if not defined, decades of black political struggle when few were listening—and even fewer were doing anything. Baraka did something. Man, he did plenty.” —Shelf Awareness
“In a climate of renewed outrage over injustice, the voice of the recently departed Amiri Baraka is more relevant than ever, his volatile lyric poems ringing as true today as they did fifty years ago. A career retrospective that captures not just a man, but a movement.” —Barnes & Noble Review
“Throughout his writing life, [Baraka] crafted some of the most potent, thoughtful, and even sublime lines of any poet of his generation and beyond.” —Gawker
“Baraka stands with Wheatley, Douglass, Dunbar, Hughes, Hurston, Wright and Ellison as one of the eight figures . . . who have significantly affected the course of African-American literary culture.” —Arnold Rampersad
“His work works—in terms of efficiency, in terms of amazing manipulation of fire and music.” —Gwendolyn Brooks
“Baraka was the people’s poet.” —Maya Angelou
“Always a nuance ahead of everybody else . . . [he was] our most original writer. Nobody else comes close.” —Ishmael Reed
“Baraka was foundational for a generation of writers who emerged in his wake, a singular figure whose work laid down the terms of engagement for many, if not most, of us who came to the craft after him. . . . [He] achieved an absolute democracy of language—a poetry forged in the crucible of a collective experience, a musical fusion of history, irony, and art.” —Jelani Cobb, New Yorker
“He was a powerful voice on the printed page, a riveting orator in person and an enduring presence on the international literary scene.” —Margalit Fox, New York Times
“Baraka’s writings are charged with a literary electricity that enlightens and energizes our minds, bodies, and souls.” —M. K. Asante Jr.
“No American poet since Pound has come closer to making poetry and politics reciprocal forms of action.” —M.L. Rosenthal
“[Baraka’s] are the agonized poems of a man writing to save his skin, or at least to settle in it, and so urgent is their purpose.” —Richard Howard
Luxury, then, is a way of
being ignorant, comfortably
An approach to the open market
of least information. Where theories
can thrive, under heavy tarpaulins
without being cracked by ideas.
(I have not seen the earth for years
and think now possibly “dirt” is
negative, positive, but clearly
social. I cannot plant a seed, cannot
recognize the root with clearer dent
than indifference. Though I eat
and shit as a natural man (Getting up
from the desk to secure a turkey sandwich
and answer the phone: the poem undone
undone by my station, by my station,
and the bad words of Newark.) Raised up
to the breech, we seek to fill for this
crumbling century. The darkness of love,
in whose sweating memory all error is forced.
Undone by the logic of any specific death.
who still follow fires, tho are quieter
and less punctual. It is a polite truth
we are left with. Who are you? What are you
saying? Something to be dealt with, as easily.
The noxious game of reason, saying, “No, No,
you cannot feel,” like my dead lecturer
lamenting thru gipsies his fast suicide.
Ballad & Fire
for Sylvia or Amina
There is music
but these are left from crowds
listening and singing
All the civilizations humans have built
(speed us up we look like ants)
our whole lives lived in an inch
or two. And those few seconds
that we breathe
in that incredible speed
blurs of sight and sound
the wind’s theories
So for us to have been together, even
for this moment
profound like a leaf
blown in the wind
to have been together
and known you, and despite our pain
to have grasped much of what joy exists
accompanied by the ring and peal of your
is what it was about, really. Life.
Loving someone, and struggling