Tag Archives: Amiri Baraka

Book Acquired Recently: Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin & Marissa Alexander

Osayande, Ewuare X., ed. Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin & Marissa Alexander. Philadelphia: FreedomSeed, 2013.

I received this anthology from my father, who works with Osayande at Mennonite Central Committee. I am incredibly excited to read it, as it looks to be an important addition to the long tradition of politically-activist poetry anthologies (Sam Hamill’s Poets Against the War is another relatively recent example) as well as to the rich tradition of African American anthologies in that it responds to America’s ongoing racism, although not all of the contributors are black.

Stand Our Ground includes poets from all over the world, though most are from the U.S. Impressively, the book’s list of contributors is quite democratic, including work by well-known authors such as Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, and Askia Touré alongside work by a few writers with hardly any publishing history, and all levels in between. Kudos to Baraka, et al. for contributing to this project, because I am sure FreedomSeed Press did not have money to pay any kind of substantial rights fees. Osayande and FreedomSeed also deserve praise for putting the book together so quickly. All of the proceeds from sales of the book go to either Martin’s family or Alexander’s continued fight for justice.

I was flipping through the book last night, and read Baraka’s poem “I liked us better,” which reads like a piece from his Black Arts Movement heyday (my favorite period of his work), asserting that “I liked us better when we were / shouting and marching and intent // On changing everything. I liked us better when we / didn’t dig white people so much” (35). I love that though he is almost 80, Baraka is still speaking uncomfortable truth to power unabashedly. I love that he refuses to back down, and that he takes pride in the fact that he was so controversial as the poet laureate of New Jersey that the state abolished the position rather than keep him around. His inclusion in Stand Our Ground, along with that of the other luminaries mentioned above, shows that poets can still be relevant as prophets, that literature still has a role to play in the fight for positive social change. Stand Our Ground is an important book that everyone should read.

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Reflections on One Year of Blogging and My Book Addiction

This week was the one-year anniversary of this blog, and it feels appropriate to mark the occasion with a post about it.

First, here is a post from one of my favorite blogs, A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff, about lessons learned from blogging. I particularly agree with numbers 3-5.

Second, this is my third and most successful attempt over the past decade at blogging (here is a link to the previous one). I am happy that I have finally had the willpower to keep posting regularly: at least once a week with only a handful of exceptions, and many weeks two or three times, especially during the summer when I’m not teaching.

Third, around half of my posts have been in the Books Acquired Recently category. I began this category because I thought it would be interesting to document how many books I actually acquire rather than making random estimates. I just went through all of these posts for the past year, and I must say that I was a little surprised at the results. I knew that I was both a book and a book-buying addict, but I did not realize just how addicted I am. Over the past twelve months I have acquired (mostly bought, but some were also gifts or exam/desk copies) 155 books! That is an average of nearly three per week! Perhaps just as impressively, I have read all but twenty-six of them (I’ll catch up this summer!).

Here is the breakdown of my 155 new friends:

76 books of fiction, including two Norton anthologies that encompass multiple genres. Fiction is both my favorite genre to read and to write about, so I am not surprised that nearly half of the books fit here. I am actually a bit surprised that it wasn’t more than half.

30 books of literary criticism/theory. I am such a nerd.

26 books of miscellaneous nonfiction–mostly memoirs, some art history, some cultural studies, some sports.

20 books of poetry. My guess would have been that this would have been the category following fiction. I am kind of sad that I acquired fifty percent more criticism/theory than poetry.

2 collections of comic books/comic strips.

1 play (Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman).

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Books Acquired Recently: Holiday Edition

My family exchanged gifts today rather than on the 25th. Here is a list of all of the books I was fortunate enough to receive:

Bechdel, Alison. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. Boston: Houghton, 2008.

I read an article in the New Yorker about Bechdel earlier this year and decided that I wanted to check out her work. I look forward to reading through the comic strip that put her on the public radar.

Eagleton, Terry. The Event of Literature. New Haven: Yale UP, 2012.

I don’t always agree with Eagleton, but I enjoy his work because it is at the very least thought-provoking. His latest book sounds interesting.

Glimcher, Mildred L. Happenings: New York, 1958-1963. New York: Monacelli, 2012.

I am very interested in the New York art and literary scene of the 1950s-1960s, and this book documents how artists of the time were stretching the boundaries of what “art” could be and how it related to performance.

Jones, Hettie. How I Became Hettie Jones. 1990. New York: Grove, 1997.

I’ve done writing about Jones’s ex-husband, Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones), and, as I mention above, I am interested in their artistic millieu, so I’ve been wanting to read this memoir for a while.

Jones, L.H. The Jones Second Reader. Boston: Ginn, 1903.

This book is one of my grandfather’s old school books that he kept until his recent death. I am honored to have it in my possession.

Marshall, Ian. Class of 92: The Official Story of the Team That Transformed United. London: Simon, 2012.

I became a Manchester United fan in 1991 as an eleven-year-old, just before their greatest generation of players began taking the pitch. I am very excited to read more about their time before they broke into the first team.

Shaw, Lytle. Frank O’Hara: The Poetics of Coterie. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2006.

As I’ve written here before, O’Hara is one of my favorite poets, so I acquire books about him rather compulsively.

Swartz, Ted. Laughter is Sacred Space: The Not-So-Typical Journey of a Mennonite Actor. Harrisonburg: Herald, 2012.

Swartz is an actor whom I have met and seen perform several times. As a side note, Herald Press’s headquarters was in Scottdale, Pennsylvania for its entire history until just recently. I was shocked when I looked at the copyright page and saw that they have moved.

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Shaking the Rust Off

I haven’t written anything other than emails and lesson outlines in almost a week. The new semester is kicking my butt! I need to find a way to budget time into my schedule for writing so that I don’t get too out of practice and lose my edge. Luckily, today is the first meeting of a faculty writing group on campus, which should help me keep on task. There’s nothing like potential failure in front of your peers for motivation!

Anyway, the week has been an interesting one even though I haven’t had time to write about it here. I had good discussions with my classes about George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Amiri Baraka’s work (Dutchman and some poems), and read Stephen Beachy’s novel Distortion. It’s not as good as his latest novel Boneyard, but it was still enjoyable and even beautiful at times. Every time I saw the cover, I thought of the South Park episode with The Cure’s Robert Smith where Stan yells at the end that “Distortion is the best album ever!” Then I realized that I was misremembering the album title, which is actually Disintegration. Ah, well. The other significant event this week was that I got a new office computer with a HUGE monitor. It is burning my eyes out as I type. But it’s much faster than the old one, which is exciting.

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Books Acquired Recently

Baraka, Amiri. Dutchman and The Slave. 1964. New York: Harper, 2001.

I bought this book to use while completing my essay in the forthcoming Modern Language Association volume Approaches to Teaching Baraka’s Dutchman, for which it is the standard edition. However, I’ve never read The Slave before, and I look forward to it. I love Baraka’s work because it is so energetic and straightforward. Most people dislike his work because it is so angry, but I think his anger towards whites is justified, and I appreciate his ability to use literature as a political weapon while still maintaining a high level of aesthetic quality.

Irving, John. In One Person. New York: Simon, 2012.

I have enjoyed the two Irving novels I’ve read, The World According to Garp (which I really need to find time to re-read since I read it eleven years ago) and The 158-Pound Marriage, and In One Person received a glowing review from The New Yorker, so I thought I would read it because its main character is bisexual, which is a major rarity.

Both books bought at amazon.com.

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