Chapter One Introduction
1.1 Research Background
Amiri Baraka(1934-2014)is an African American writer,born in a middle-classAmerican family at the segregated Kenney Memorial Hospital in Newark,New Jersey,in October 7,1934.He is not only an outstanding African American playwright,butalso a prominent poet,musical critic and an active socialist.He has achieved greatdistinction and honor in western literature such as winning the poet laureate of NewJersey,the American Book Awards,Obie Award,the Langston Hughes Award,theGuggenheim Foundation,the National Endowment for the Arts,the RockefellerFoundation Theatre Award,the American Academy of Arts Award,and the ColumbusFoundation Lifetime Achievement Award.
His educational experience has made him intimately involve with music.Heattends Newark’s Italian Barringer High School,which is as academically prestigiousas the famous Jewish Weequahic High School.Baraka enrolled at Rutgers Universityin Newark for a year before transferring to Howard University where he met AndrewYoung,the future pioneer of the power struggle and the Nobel Prize winner ToniMorrison.Baraka,in particular,was fascinated by blues and attended a tea party forthe history of blues held by his professor of literature,Sterling Brown.Moreover,healso immersed himself in the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Keith Gillespie.Incontrast to the serious political studies of the Cold War era,Baraka felt oppressed andconstrained,physically and mentally unable to be free.Therefore,he dropped out ofHoward University and joins the Air Force in his last semester of university.
1.2 Research Questions
Based on the background information,Baraka’s education,working,and writingexperience are introduced.More importantly,Baraka’s musical poetry and articles canevince his identity as a jazz poet.Many scholars have discussed the improvisation andcall-and-response of jazz in his few poems and some of them have mentioned aboutthe black aesthetics and blues aesthetics in Baraka’s poems.However,few of themdelve into the deep theoretical connotations and realistic significance of the jazzcomplex in Baraka’s poetry.Complete and profound elucidation about the jazzcomplex in Baraka’s poetry entails to be explored.Besides,the literary and musicaltradition of the jazz complex and the specific poem analysis are necessary to bediscussed as well.That’s the reason why the thesis puts forward these questions asfollows:
1.What are the connotations of the jazz complex revealed in Baraka’s poetry?
2.How is the jazz complex embodied in Baraka’s poetry?
According to the elaboration of Baraka’s live poetry reading performance withjazz bands and his poetry text analysis,the jazz complex can be better explored.Apartfrom it,Baraka’s participation of political and art movements can also provideconvincing evidence to solve these two research questions.
Chapter Two Literature Review
2.1 Previous Studies on Amiri Baraka’s Poetry from Political andHistorical Perspectives
Scholars put high premium on Baraka’s poetry from political and historicalperspective due to Baraka’s political background.With the Civil Rights Movementand social political and economic development,Baraka has transformed his identityfrom a bohemian poet,to a rational black nationalist,and a revolutionary Marxist.Accordingly,Baraka injects his political ideals into his poetic creation.Baraka(1971)has showed his opinions about race and revolution for black people.Jerry Gafio Watts(2001)expresses his dissatisfaction with Baraka’s constantly changing identity as abohemian poet,black nationalist,and religious Marxist.Baraka is criticized for hislife’s efforts on behalf of the black movement,arguing that his role as a revolutionaryfighting for the black people is actually a black dictatorship in disguise,underminingdemocracy and neglecting the empowerment of the masses.Besides,he criticizes himfor sexism,antisemitism,dogmatism,the absurdity of leading African Americans intoAfrican feudalism,and for being a leftist extremist.Piotr Gwiazda(2004)displays hispolitical and aesthetic viewpoints about Baraka’s poem“Somebody Blew upAmerica”that it not only shows the poet’s satire and criticism towards the whitesupremacy and racism and imperialism,but also displays Baraka’s skillfulmanipulation of avant-garde methods such as spontaneous insight,bebop prosody,andvernacular tones and the traditional African American rhetoric of call-and-response.Haki Madhubuti(2014)praises Baraka’s contribution to black political field.Michael Simanga(2015)praises Baraka’s role as the leader of the African People’s Congress(CPA)in promoting black civil rights and expanding the influence of the Black ArtsMovement in the 1970s.Harmony Holiday(2015:174)elucidates his analysis aboutBaraka’s famous collection SOS which displays his political ideology and persistentefforts fighting for equilibrium and equality against the obstacles that black peopleand the working class have to confront.Ephraim Scott Sommers(2016)discussesBaraka’s poem“Black Art”from a socio-historical standpoint,and expresses hisrevolutionary attitude towards the Civil Rights Movement in 1965 and the Black ArtsMovement.
2.2 Previous Studies on Aimiri Baraka’s Poetry from Artistic andCultural Perspectives
Music has played a critical role in Baraka’s life and many of his collections haverevealed musical elements.Generally speaking,most scholars have focused on theinfluence which black music,particularly blues and jazz exert on.Harris(1985),MetaDu Ewa Jones(2003),Fred Motten(2003),Katel Karol Mets(2003),NathanielMackey(2013),Aldon Lynn Nielsen(2021),Kathy Lou Schultz(2013),Werner Solas(1984),Kimberly Benston(2000)and other scholars and poets have contributed tothis field with considerable skill and capability,although there is clearly room for further research in this area.From Kimberley Benston’s book,Baraka:The Renegadeand The Mask(1976),to Kathy Lou Schultz’s The Afro-modernist Epic and LiteraryHistory:Tolson,Hughes,Baraka(2013),and then Alden Lynn Nelson’s The InsideSong of Amiri Baraka(2021),they focus on the interplay between black music andblack history,also jazz improvisation is highlighted in Baraka’s poetry.Baraka’s livepoetry reading performance with famous jazz bands are introduced.James Smethurst(2020),Black City Vanguard Amiri Baraka,BLACK Music,BLACK Modernity,focuses on the following aspects.Firstly,it mainly affirms the significance ofBaraka’s musical writing on illustrating American history,and expounds the functionsof music.Secondly,it can help to understand,trace and theorize the creativity of theblack nationality and the black working class.Thirdly,it supports that black music is avital vehicle for the creation of a black nation and class.Aldon Lynn Nielsen(2004),mentions that Baraka’s literature creation is affected by African American’s languageand music.Aldon Lynn Nielsen(2021)devotes to the study of jazz poetry of Baraka,especially telling details about collaborative performance experience of Baraka withjazz bands including The New York Art Quatet;Blue Ark;D.C.Space,etc.,from the1960s to the early 20th century.The overall study is more comprehensive.Barakahimself has probed into music studies for a long time,which could provide direct andbeneficial references for the following researchers.
Chapter Three Theoretical Basis ......................... 15
3.1 Overviews of the Jazz Development History in America ................ 15
3.2 The Connotations of the Jazz Complex in Amiri Baraka’s Poetry ..17
Chapter Four The Spiritual Aesthetic Value in Amiri Baraka’s Poetry .... 23
4.1 Avant-garde Jazz Improvisation Poetic Expression ......................... 25
4.2 Call-and-Response with Black Collective Consciousness .............. 33
Chapter Five The Social Functional Value in Amiri Baraka’s Poetry ...... 42
5.1 Fighting against American Mainstream Literature as a Bohemian Poet .................. 44
5.2 Improving Black People’s Civil Rights as a Radical Black Nationalist ........................ 52
Chapter Five The Social Functional Value in AmiriBaraka’s Poetry
5.1 Fighting against American Mainstream Literature as a BohemianPoet
When referring to the beat poets,it is necessary to talk about the social,culturaland literary background behind it.After the end of the World War II,the United Statesturned an economic giant,and the governments carried out political persecution athome and military expansion abroad.During the Cold War,the McCarthyism wasrampant,and the right-wing forces began to attack and persecute the left-wingliterature cycles,making many American writers avoid political issues and socialgenres in their writings.They became more and more conservative and repressive.Itwas a period when the non-individualistic modernist school represented by T.S.Eliotwho advocated traditional moral concepts and conventional writing techniques wasprevalent and popular.
Under the circumstances,some pioneering literary schools like the BeatGeneration Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg,the Black Mountain Poets such asCharles Olson,Robert Creeley,Robert Duncan,the New York school poets likeO’Hara,Kenneth Koch,John Ashbery were born at the right movement.In the 1960s,the avant-garde writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg inherited thetranscendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Thoreau as well as the anti-tradition and freedom spirit of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman.They adopted extremelife style,such as vagrancy,drug abuse,orgies,living in groups of the original way oflife against the objectification of the mainstream culture.
Chapter Six Conclusion
6.1 Major Findings
According to the analysis of“The Dictatorship of the Proletariat,”“AM/TRAK,”“BLACK DADA NIHILISMUS,”“Numbers Letters”and so on in chapterfour,it is found that poetry and jazz are melted into each other very well in Baraka’spoems.Especially in chapter four,the jazz improvisation,blues poetic lines,scatsinging,call-and-response and poly-rhythms can be found clearly.The fact isconfirmed that the jazz complex is closely connected to African Americans’life in aspiritual level by which artists and writers drive much inspiration from the culturalheritage to create their beautiful and unique works.Baraka’s poems strike an echo thatblack people can inherit their heritages and release their painful,sorrowful,evenangry emotions through writings or other creation forms on the one hand.On theother hand,black intellectuals may try to improve their awareness of pursuing morereasonable and humanistic civil rights and to break up white standard and potentialsocial discrimination.More importantly,the writings of Baraka can show the powerand determination to deal with social issues.
Baraka’s poetry provides audience and readers a unique spiritual aesthetic value.In African American poetry,the scat singing with black vernacular and the live poetryreading performance strengthen the experience of the poetry with its intuition and sensibility.“The visualization and spatialization of sound make the interactionbetween the different media of the poetry text,which increases the texture andexperience of the text while enhancing the density of the poetry text”(Luo,2015:69).
In chapter five,Baraka’s political ideals and artistic and expression are wellcombined through his poems.Baraka is a revolutionary practitioner who considers artas a weapon and makes unremitting efforts to obtain self-determination of AfricanAmericans.He makes good contributions to weaken the European and Americanmainstream literature’s influence,improve civil rights of black people and fight forworking class a better life.“For Baraka,the success of a poem depends on how muchchange it brings to the world”(Harris,1985:135).Baraka puts high premium onsocial function of poems in terms of the jazz complex,the analysis of poems in BlackMagic and Hard Facts and others can reflect that clearly in chapter five.