by Jupiter Dandridge
One of the greatest poets of all time is Amiri Baraka. Born in New Jersey, Baraka’s real name was LeRoi Jones, and he was in love with a white woman. A lot of the poems in his collected works are about her. Baraka’s work is full of politics, daily life, people; he writes about race issues in his poetry, too.
The first poem in the collected works, which was published in 2014, is “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note.” This poem is about Baraka’s daughter.
The narrator feels empty in the beginning. Suffocated by the world and the day-by-day conformity of doing the same thing, he runs into the same general problems: the area where he lives; the same people; the same bus. Nothing is surprising.
The opening line is, “Lately I’ve become accustomed to the way / The ground opens up and envelopes me.” The narrator has gone numb to the situation at hand — he lives in a violent neighborhood and is not scared by gunshots.
This sets a sunken tone for the rest of the poem — as if he were a man buried telling a story to the people standing over the grave. The poem transitions to the narrator saying that he counts the stars each night and he gets the same number.
He writes, “And when they don’t come to be counted, I count the holes they leave.” Stuck in his bed, the narrator is a man that doesn’t believe in anything. But he believes in something that is just too far to reach. As if he’s giving up hope. This eludes to the title.
Baraka died 2013, leaving behind a legacy of poetry. This latest collected works has 600 pages of poems. This collection is important because he takes one image and zooms in on it and brings it back out, over and over again.