The changes in Imagery in Amiri Baraka’s poetry in both phases : the Beat and the Islamic
Edit and revise the paper about the changes in Imagery of Baraka’s poetry in both phases: the Beat, before his conversion to Islam, and the Islamic phase.
Manipulate on them by providing examples of his poetry in both phases and to provide the critics points of views about this alongside with your voice. My argumentation is “one finds that there is a considerable change in Baraka’s imagery in both phases: the Beat and the Islamic. Images were quiet. They do not represent violence nor revolutionary actions, but beauty through the visual and aural images. On the contrary, in the Islamic phase, the imagery becomes dynamic, revolutionary to meet his will for rebellion. When Baraka becomes a Muslim, he later becomes a Marxist, so he becomes Marxist in resistance and Muslim in believe and this is clearly shown in his poetry. Baraka starts to invite people for rebellion and revolution through his poetry which has metaphorically violence due to his being Marxism. However Islam never brings violence it brings revolution and calls for equality, justice and peace. (here you need to talk lil bit about the relationship between Marxism and the violence in his poetry, focusing on the idea that Baraka becomes a Marxist in resistance and Muslim in Belief) The imagery is also used to indicate hope and optimism of achieving freedom. The imagery of nature represents peaceful natural elements such as, the “sun” and the “mountain.” For Baraka, nature becomes a source of hope and comfort, to which he resorts to complain about the agonies of racism. The “sun” is a symbol of hope, patience, and light. However, after Baraka’s conversion, such images become more powerful and angry, like “the volcano,” which calls metaphorically for freedom and rebellion. Nature here shares with him his anger and rebels with him. It actually changes its state of peace and stability to a state of violence and explosion. This transformation is represented by the change of the “sun” to “volcano.”
Imagery in Baraka’s Poetry before his Conversion to Islam:
Baraka, in most of his poems (if not all), uses imagery to portray the deeper meanings and enrich the understanding of the messages being delivered to the readers. The reader of Baraka’s poetry realizes that there is a considerable difference of imagery in Baraka’s poetry before and after his conversion to Islam. In this part I will clarify this by providing examples of Baraka’s poetry to show the true image of the imagery before his conversion to Islam proving that Islam has a vital influence on Baraka’s poetry in general and on his imagery in particular.
The reader of Baraka’s poetry notices that the images used in his poetry before his conversion lack the violent scenes and revolutionary spirit; they are usually about his personal feelings about a lot of topics such as: his family, his philosophies and ideologies, his own dreams …etc. In his poem titled “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note”, Baraka uses imagery to express his emotions and personal feelings towards his family and his daughter. He explicates the scene where he is going up to his daughter’s room. He says:
I tiptoed up
to my daughter’s room and heard her
talking to someone, and when I opened
the door, there was no one there
Only she on her knees, peeking into
Her own clasped hands. (SOS 3)
This creates a visual image in the reader’s mind that sheds the attention of the reader to the persona’s coming events when he enters his daughter’s room and talks with her. The persona says that he sees no one inside here room, but she is on her knees. This gives us more information and takes us to the room until we see in what posture the daughter is. This poem also draws out aural images. For instance, the persona tells us that he “heard her talking to someone”. This creates a sense of anticipation in the reader’s mind and he/she creates the mental pictures that depict the aural senses that make us yearn to know who the girl is talking with until we are taken into her room to find her praying on bended knees. This image represents a symbol of slavery and submission. Baraka succeeds in drawing the aural image which influences the audience effectively and turns it to visual image dramatically. The visual image is more effective on audiences as what the proverb says, “a picture worth a thousand words.” The brilliance of Baraka’s style and his poetic images engage the audience to have the same experience and hear the same sounds.
In another poem, “Balboa, The Entertainer,” Baraka uses imagery brilliantly: “at the cold” this appeals to our feeling. The reader feels cold too: “Your finger slips,” and “music trails,” (SOS 50) this makes the reader generate the mental pictures of sounds accompanying the music as it fades away into the background. One notices here that Baraka’s imagery depicts normal images I mean everyday images that virtualize human senses. There are no images that depict violence or any aggressive actions.
In his poem, “Rhythm & Blues (1,” Baraka uses images to depict his own feelings:
I am deaf and blind and lost and will not again sing
your quiet verse. I have lost
even the act of poetry, and writhe now for cool horizonless
shake and chant, bulled electric motion, figure of what there
will be. (SOS 84)
Imagery enables the reader to relate the events of desperation, hopelessness in humanity to Baraka’s loss of touch to his true identity. It is metaphorical how Baraka writes his poems to be a reflection of himself. This is also depicted in his poem, “An Agony. As Now” when he says:
I am inside someone
who hates me. I look
out from his eyes. Smell
what fouled tunes come in
to his breath. Love his
wretched women. (SOS 57)
This poem relates to Baraka’s life, his drunken stupor and wild parties with the white people. Through the persona in the poems above, we can understand that Baraka is actually writing about his life before his conversion to Islam. This tells the readers about the physiological state that Baraka had in real life, that of hopelessness, dissatisfaction and the struggle with his stream of consciousness. For instance, in “Looks For You Yesterday, Here You Come Today” poem, Baraka writes, “all these thots/ are Flowers Of Evil/cold and lifeless/as subway rails” (SOS 16). No doubt that the reader of Barak’s poetry can find a lot of images that depict the pessimism and the hopelessness in his poetry before his conversion to Islam. Perhaps, this is due to the lack of full faith of Allah’s will to change the destiny and the deep pain of the disappointments in his life because of oppression and racism.
The imagery in Baraka’s poetry before his conversion to Islam is full of the scenes of nature, the peaceful world, the world with no violence, where there are no killers, and no racists. It is the most beautiful world, to which Baraka resorts to complain and to forget some of his pain there; as a result, this peaceful world becomes a revolutionary place that is full of poet’s concerns and sorrows. In the poem “To a Publisher … Cut-out,” Baraka expresses his devotion to nature.
I long to be a mountain climber
& wave my hands up 8,000 feet.
Out of sight & snow blind / the tattered
Stars and Stripes poked in the new peak. (SOS 20-21)
In “Rhythm & Blues,” Baraka resorts to nature again, he says,
understood, except as it rises against the mountains, like sun
but brighter, like flame but hotter. There will be those
who will tell you it will be beautiful. (SOS 84)
In the poem above, Baraka finds in natural phenomenon such as “sun” symbol of hope and freedom from oppression and from slavery as in, “ understood, except as it rises against the mountains, like sun/ but brighter, like flame but hotter.”
Imagery in Baraka’s Poetry after his Conversion to Islam:
After his conversion to Islam, LeRoi Jones changes his name to Amiri Baraka. It is at this point in his career and life that he becomes politically conscious. He dissociates himself from the relationship with his white poets and even divorces his white wife and shifts to Harlem (Baraka, autobiography xxi). At this point, there is a big change in his poetry after his conversion. For instance, in “The Liar,” Baraka’s self-identity changes as illustrated when he says, “When they say, ’It is Roi/ Who is dead’ I wonder/ Who will they mean?” This is also illustrated by the repetition of “Who” which makes the reader ask questions concerning the new identity of the author.
The reader of Baraka’s poetry after his conversion to Islam realizes that the images take a new form; they actually became dynamic, revolutionary and violent. In his poem “Black Art,” Baraka depicts violent scenes. “Poems are bullshit unless they are/ teeth or trees or lemon piled.” (SOS 149) He also continues in the next lines:
Whores! We want poem that kill.
Assassin poems, poems that shoot
guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys
and take their weapons leaving them dead
with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland. Knockoff
poems for dope selling wops or slick halfwhite
politicians Airplane poems, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr … tuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh
… rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr … setting fire and death to
whites ass. Look at the Liberal
spokesman for the jews clutch his throat. (SOS 149 -150)
In the poem above, Baraka confirms that the poems are tools for attack and power. It is actually a mean for true change unless it is nothing then. He also uses aggressive words which are direct to indicate the real desire to face the other, as in “kill,” “assassin,” “wrestle,” and “take their weapon.” All this makes the image more dynamic and full of effectiveness that expresses the feelings, the spirit of challenge and the invitation to launch to kill. Thus, the partial images, as in “wrestle cops into alleys,” “and take their weapons,” “ leaving them dead,” “with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland” turned to a dramatic image for attracting the audience and charge them with a positive power against racism by whites and Jews.
The reader also notices that there is a change in forming the image in Baraka’s poetry after his conversion to Islam; it becomes optimistic and full of hope, because he becomes ambitious that the change will come, and he starts to believe in his rights and his nations more than he did before his conversion to Islam. In other words, Islam gives him power, hope and determination to achieve freedom by resistance. In his poem “Black Art,” Baraka says:
Let black people understand
that they are the lovers and the sons
of lovers and warriors and sons
of warriors Are poems & poets &
all the loveliness here in the world. (SOS 150)
Baraka started this excerpt with imperative “let” for evoking the audience, the blacks, to make them believe through the dynamic image that the blacks are heroes as in “lovers and sons of lovers”, “warriors and son of warriors.” Notice here that Baraka uses the word “sons” to show the black people’s heritage which is full of virtue and strength, as in “warriors” since they are generation that has deep roots in nation. One can sense the poet’s spirit as full of optimism, and peaceful attacgment to his nation and their connection of brotherhood. By his hopeful words, Baraka spreads the hope and optimism to his people and to his readers.
After his conversion to Islam, Baraka uses natural phenomenon less than he did before his conversion, and this use appeals to what he wants to deliver to recipients about his will for freedom and change, as in his poem, “Black Reconstruction:”
That the freedom ! the that
the yeh say what Bam!
splat volcano language
of Free – Do you, The Free
The Bird – My sign, on my face
the skin raised, to show
out of fire, sky nut sperm
the jism that made the world.(SOS 359)
We see that the image of nature in the previous excerpt is dynamic and aural. The images before Baraka’s conversion to Islam are quiet and symbolic like “ the sun” to indicate hope but in this excerpt, he uses violent natural phenomena that ask about change and revolution as in, “splat volcano language, of Free,” “Do you, The Free The Bird,” “ the skin raised,” and “ sky nut sperm the jism that made the world.” Here, he takes power from nature through “volcano” which represents the strength of explosion and something that is quiet for a short time and then it explodes. The explosion of the “volcano” is similar to the anger and revolution of the Afo – Americans, who seek their freedom from oppression and injustice. The skin color is affected by the fire of the volcano, indicating the blacks’ determination to start their revolution. That’s why, he asks, “Do you, The Free, The bird – my sign,” addressing everyone, are you a “volcano,” then you should explode for your freedom. The images of “volcano” and “fire” are dynamic symbols of revolution and resistance.
It is also during this period that Baraka wrote poems like “Babylon Revisited,” “Heathen Bliss,” “The Terrorism of Abstraction” and “Small Talk in the Mirror.” In “Babylon Revisited,” Baraka writes “The gaunt thing with no organs creeps along the streets.” (Black Magic 159) This image of a savage country shows the readers how creepy and horrifying the creature the author encounters. This generates an environment of discomfort and fright. He also uses imagery to portray violence where he says “While your fresh burns / and your eyes peeled to red mud” (Black Magic 159).
However, it is evident that the imagery that Baraka uses in his subsequent poems after his conversion to Islam is marred with images of violence but at the center of these poems, we see Baraka is taking up the role of political activist, when he and other African-American poets team up to write about racial injustices. He is committed to Black Nationalism and International Socialism where he dedicates most of his poems towards his black community and the issues affecting their lives. For instance, in the poem “Stellar Nilotic,” Baraka writes that: “This was always, and remains/ a foreign land.” (SOS 251)Through this image, the reader is emotionally affected by the horrible racial and poverty problems affecting the African-Americans, their sense of alienation, and exclusion from their country. They become foreigners in their land.
It is also evident that racism, cultural clash, and identity are still affecting Baraka. This is best depicted through his poem “Small Talk in the Mirror” when he says:
There is some kind of skeleton of ignorant greed
Clutching our ears knows mouth where we breathe
Not you, the other then, the one
Who follows, the one who won’t acknowledge
The teeth in your tongue, the stomach in every song
You have sung. (SOS 509)
This stanza shows the racism that has affected Baraka’s own life. The poet reflects on the whites’ reluctance to acknowledge the humanity of the black Americans by not acknowledging the “teeth” in their “tongues.” As if the black’s teeth and stomachs are different and strange to the whites. The racism of the whites makes them blind to the humanity of the black Americans, who share all humans the same body and organs.
His poem “Incident,” which appeared after Baraka’s conversion, shows violent images of murder to black Americans:
He came back and shot. He shot him. When he came
back, he shot, and he fell, stumbling, past the
shadow wood, down, shot, dying, dead, to full halt.
At the bottom, bleeding, shot dead. He died then, there
after the fall, the speeding bullet, tore his face
and blood sprayed fine over the killer and the grey light.
Pictures of the dead man, are everywhere. And his spirit
sucks up the light. But he died in darkness darker than
his soul and everything tumbled blindly with him dying
down the stairs.
We have no word. (Black Magic 118)
Baraka creates a violent image of murdering a black American, who is “shot” dead by the brutal hand of the white killer. The blood of the victim spreads all over the face of the killer. The murder changes “light” to “darkness” to indicate the injustice of racism. Nature sympathizes with the killed victim by turning “everything” to darkness. The image of “darkness” indicates sadness and melancholy to the death of black Americans.
At the end of this chapter, one finds that there is a considerable change in Baraka’s imagery before and after his conversion to Islam. Before his conversion, images are quiet. They do not represent violence nor revolutionary actions, but beauty through the visual and aural images. On the contrary, after his conversion to Islam, the imagery becomes dynamic, violent and revolutionary to meet his will for rebellion.
The imagery is also used to indicate hope and optimism of achieving freedom. Before Baraka’s conversion to Islam, the imagery of nature represents peaceful natural elements such as, the “sun” and the “mountain.” For Baraka, nature becomes a source of hope and comfort, to which he resorts to complain about the agonies of racism. The “sun” is a symbol of hope, patience, and light. However, after Baraka’s conversion, such images become more powerful and angry, like “the volcano,” which calls metaphorically for freedom and rebellion. Nature here shares with him his anger and rebels with him. After his conversion, nature changes its state of peace and stability to a state of violence and explosion. This transformation is represented by the change of the “sun” to “volcano.”