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September 11. 2017
Baraka’s 9/11 poem here may be the most important poem of the later Beat Movement. So controversial that Baraka was reviled after its publication and famous reading tour really until his death in 2014. The poem is offensive to white people on all levels, of course, but what was really over the top were a few lines where Baraka claims 9/11 was a conspiracy permitted by the US government. Of course, now that we have a President who believes that some of that part of the poem doesn’t quite seem to matter anymore. Beyond that, though, this poem almost seems as if it could have been written anytime in the last year or so. Read it. You need it. It looks long but it is no longer than all those You wouldn’t believe what ______ from the 1970s looks like now kind of posts we all click on occasionally.
Somebody Blew Up America Audio
By Amiri Baraka
They say its some terrorist,
It wasn’t our American terrorists
It wasn’t the Klan or the Skin heads
Or the them that blows up nigger
Churches, or reincarnates us on Death Row
It wasn’t Trent Lott
Or David Duke or Giuliani
Or Schundler, Helms retiring
The gonorrhea in costume
The white sheet diseases
That have murdered black people
Terrorized reason and sanity
Most of humanity, as they pleases
They say (who say?)
Who do the saying
Who is them paying
Who tell the lies
Who in disguise
Who had the slaves
Who got the bux out the Bucks
Who got fat from plantations
Who genocided Indians
Tried to waste the Black nation
Who live on Wall Street
The first plantation
Who cut your nuts off
Who rape your ma
Who lynched your pa
Who got the tar, who got the feathers
Who had the match, who set the fires
Who killed and hired
Who say they God & still be the Devil
Who the biggest only
Who the most goodest
Who do Jesus resemble
Who created everything
Who the smartest
Who the greatest
Who the richest
Who say you ugly and they the goodlookingest
Who define art
Who define science
Who made the bombs
Who made the guns
Who bought the slaves, who sold them
Who called you them names
Who say Dahmer wasn’t insane
Who? Who? Who?
Who stole Puerto Rico
Who stole the Indies, the Philipines, Manhattan
Australia & The Hebrides
Who forced opium on the Chinese
Who own them buildings
Who got the money
Who think you funny
Who locked you up
Who own the papers
Who owned the slave ship
Who run the army
Who the fake president
Who the ruler
Who the banker
Who? Who? Who?
Who own the mine
Who twist your mind
Who got bread
Who need peace
Who you think need war
Who own the oil
Who do no toil
Who own the soil
Who is not a nigger
Who is so great ain’t nobody bigger
Who own this city
Who own the air
Who own the water
Who own your crib
Who rob and steal and cheat and murder
and make lies the truth
Who call you uncouth
Who live in the biggest house
Who do the biggest crime
Who go on vacation anytime
Who killed the most niggers
Who killed the most Jews
Who killed the most Italians
Who killed the most Irish
Who killed the most Africans
Who killed the most Japanese
Who killed the most Latinos
Who? Who? Who?
Who own the ocean
Who own the airplanes
Who own the malls
Who own television
Who own radio
Who own what ain’t even known to be owned
Who own the owners that ain’t the real owners
Who own the suburbs
Who suck the cities
Who make the laws
Who made Bush president
Who believe the confederate flag need to be flying
Who talk about democracy and be lying
Who the Beast in Revelations
Who know who decide
Jesus get crucified
Who the Devil on the real side
Who got rich from Armenian genocide
Who the biggest terrorist
Who change the bible
Who killed the most people
Who do the most evil
Who don’t worry about survival
Who have the colonies
Who stole the most land
Who rule the world
Who say they good but only do evil
Who the biggest executioner
Who? Who? Who?
Who own the oil
Who want more oil
Who told you what you think that later you find out a lie
Who? Who? Who?
Who found Bin Laden, maybe they Satan
Who pay the CIA,
Who knew the bomb was gonna blow
Who know why the terrorists
Learned to fly in Florida, San Diego
Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion
And cracking they sides at the notion
Who need fossil fuel when the sun ain’t goin’ nowhere
Who make the credit cards
Who get the biggest tax cut
Who walked out of the Conference
Who killed Malcolm, Kennedy & his Brother
Who killed Dr King, Who would want such a thing?
Are they linked to the murder of Lincoln?
Who invaded Grenada
Who made money from apartheid
Who keep the Irish a colony
Who overthrow Chile and Nicaragua later
Who killed David Sibeko, Chris Hani,
the same ones who killed Biko, Cabral,
Neruda, Allende, Che Guevara, Sandino,
Who killed Kabila, the ones who wasted Lumumba, Mondlane,
Betty Shabazz, Die, Princess Di, Ralph Featherstone,
Who locked up Mandela, Dhoruba, Geronimo,
Assata, Mumia, Garvey, Dashiell Hammett, Alphaeus Hutton
Who killed Huey Newton, Fred Hampton,
Medgar Evers, Mikey Smith, Walter Rodney,
Was it the ones who tried to poison Fidel
Who tried to keep the Vietnamese Oppressed
Who put a price on Lenin’s head
Who put the Jews in ovens,
and who helped them do it
Who said “America First”
and ok’d the yellow stars
Who killed Rosa Luxembourg, Liebneckt
Who murdered the Rosenbergs
And all the good people iced,
tortured, assassinated, vanished
Who got rich from Algeria, Libya, Haiti,
Iran, Iraq, Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine,
Who cut off peoples hands in the Congo
Who invented Aids
Who put the germs
In the Indians’ blankets
Who thought up “The Trail of Tears”
Who blew up the Maine
& started the Spanish American War
Who got Sharon back in Power
Who backed Batista, Hitler, Bilbo,
Chiang kai Chek
Who decided Affirmative Action had to go
Reconstruction, The New Deal,
The New Frontier, The Great Society,
Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for
Who doo doo come out the Colon’s mouth
Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza
Who pay Connelly to be a wooden negro
Who give Genius Awards to Homo Locus
Who overthrew Nkrumah, Bishop,
Who poison Robeson,
who try to put DuBois in Jail
Who frame Rap Jamil al Amin, Who frame the Rosenbergs,
The Scottsboro Boys,
The Hollywood Ten
Who set the Reichstag Fire
Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?
Who? Who? Who?
Explosion of Owl the newspaper say
The devil face cd be seen
Who make money from war
Who make dough from fear and lies
Who want the world like it is
Who want the world to be ruled by imperialism and national
oppression and terror violence, and hunger and poverty.
Who is the ruler of Hell?
Who is the most powerful
Who you know ever
But everybody seen
Like an Owl exploding
In your life in your brain in your self
Like an Owl who know the devil
All night, all day if you listen, Like an Owl
Exploding in fire. We hear the questions rise
In terrible flame like the whistle of a crazy dog
Like the acid vomit of the fire of Hell
Who and Who and WHO who who
Whoooo and Whooooooooooooooooooooo!
Copyright (c) 2001 Amiri Baraka. All Rights Reserved.
Books | American Beauties
By Joyce Johnson
265 pages, Penguin Books, $16.
Joyce Johnson was 21 and not long out of Barnard College when, in the winter of 1957, Allen Ginsberg set her up on a blind date with Jack Kerouac.
She took the subway downtown to meet him at a Howard Johnson’s on Eighth Street in Manhattan. “I push open the heavy glass door, and there is, sure enough, a black-haired man at the counter in a flannel lumberjack shirt slightly the worse for wear,” she writes.
“He looks up and stares at me hard with blue eyes, amazingly blue. And the skin on his face is so brown. He’s the only person in Howard Johnson’s in color. I feel a little scared as I walk up to him. ‘Jack?’ I say.”
Kerouac was older than Johnson, 34, and still largely unknown. The book that would make his reputation and upend American literature, “On the Road,” had yet to be published.
He was broke, hungry, distraught. She bought him a plate of frankfurters. He followed her back to her small apartment. A door had swung open in her life.
Thus began an off-and-on relationship that lasted nearly two years, years that witnessed the publication of “On the Road” and life-altering fame — not only Kerouac’s but also that of many of his closest friends, other Beat Generation writers.
Johnson captures this period with deep clarity and moving insight in her memoir “Minor Characters” (1983). It’s hardly an unknown book. It won a National Book Critics Circle Award, and it has remained in print since it was issued.
Joyce Johnson in 2009. More than a memoir of her time with the Beats, “Minor Characters” is a riveting portrait of an era. Credit Schiffer-Fuchs/ullstein bild, via Getty Images
I’m including it in this series of columns about neglected American books because I so rarely hear it mentioned, and because I continue to think it is hideously undervalued and under-read. “Minor Characters” is, in its quiet but deliberate way, among the great American literary memoirs of the past century.
Johnson’s book takes its title from her realization that — as was so common in every sphere of cultural life in the 1950s and beyond — the Beats were a boy gang. She would always be, at best, on its periphery. Her memoir braids and unbraids, at length, the meanings of this fact.
She recalls how the women at the San Remo and other bars, hangouts for writers and artists, “are all beautiful and have such remarkable cool that they never, never say a word; they are presences merely.” Johnson and her friends wanted to be among the yakkers, the all-night arguers.
“Minor Characters” is not just about the Beats. It’s about many different subjects that bleed together. In part it’s a portrait of Johnson’s cloistered middle-class childhood on the Upper West Side. Her parents wanted her to be a composer.
She longed for escape and began sneaking down to Washington Square Park to be among the musicians and poets. She was round-faced, well-dressed, virginal. She’d never tasted coffee. It was “my curse,” she writes, that “my outside doesn’t reflect my inside, so no one knows who I really am.”
Her book is a riveting portrait of an era. It contains a description of a back-room abortion that’s as harrowing and strange as any I’ve read. Johnson had the abortion because she didn’t love the boy and wasn’t ready for a child.
“Sometimes you went to bed with people almost by mistake, at the end of late, shapeless nights when you’d stayed up so long it almost didn’t matter,” she writes. “The thing was, not to go home.”
Alessandra Montalto gets credit for the image
actually published with this article./The New York Times
“Minor Characters” is a glowing introduction to the Beats. There are shrewd portraits of not just Kerouac and Ginsberg but people like Robert Frank and Hettie Jones.
Johnson has a knack for summing up a character in a blazing line or two. Here’s how she describes the Beat-era figure Lucien Carr, for example, at the moment he first met Kerouac: “This rich, dangerous St. Louis boy with the wicked mouth who’s already been kicked out of Bowdoin and the University of Chicago, who’s amassed a whole dissipated history by the age of 19.”
Best of all, perhaps, this book charts Johnson’s own career as a budding writer. She worked in publishing when she was young; she was secretary to John Farrar of Farrar, Straus and Cudahy (later Farrar, Straus & Giroux). He wanted to promote her; she left instead to visit Kerouac in Mexico and write. She published her first novel, “Come and Join the Dance,” when she was 26.
By then, she and Kerouac had separated for good. There was a final scene on a sidewalk. “You’re nothing but a big bag of wind!” she shouted at him. Kerouac, constitutionally unable to remain with one woman, shouted back, “Unrequited love’s a bore!”
Johnson looks back on the young woman she was, while with Kerouac, and realizes she was “not in mourning for her life. How could she have been, with her seat at the table in the exact center of the universe, that midnight place where so much is converging, the only place in America that’s alive?”
I remember tracking down a first edition of “Minor Characters” — this was harder in the late 1980s than it is today — to give to my college girlfriend as a graduation present. She looked at its title, wrinkled her brow and asked, “Why this book?” Why a book, in other words, about women who are minor characters?
I fumbled my answer. I knew only that I loved the book and wanted to share it. What I wish I had said is this: “Minor Characters” is better than all but a handful of books the boy-Beats themselves wrote. It’s a book about a so-called minor character who, in the process of writing her life, became a major one.
Follow Dwight Garner on Twitter: @DwightGarner
American Beauties is a column by Dwight Garner, appearing every other week, about undersung American books of the past 75 years.
Follow The Scene: Radical Poetics at the Zig Zag Edges.