cover image Funk Lore: New Poems (1984-1994)

Funk Lore: New Poems (1984-1994)

Amiri Baraka, Imanu Amiri Baraka. Littoral Books, $11.95 (96pp) ISBN 978-1-55713-296-3

Baraka has managed to sustain his revolutionary ardor throughout increasingly conservative times, and this volume of previously uncollected poems will surprise no one who has followed the poet and activist's career. The collection covers his familiar theme of ""the hole/ in the American soul"" produced by racism, and Baraka continues to trumpet the power of black style, the ""exhaltation & joy"" found in the sounds of musicians such as John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk. Baraka isn't shy about attacking his enemies and critics (""What do you think/ of the movie/ `X'?/ Spike/ Lie!""). His total commitment to a free-form poetics makes all of his work better when read aloud than on the page. When his jazz-influenced oral style works, it can be breathtaking: ""When love is perfected, when love/ is understood./ When love is the law/ & the measure/ The ruler & ruled & body of/ of what is body mind of/ what is mind/ When love and the Soul/ are uncovered/ then you will always/ sound like/ Duke Ellington."" When it doesn't, it can be almost a parody of itself: ""Black snake the tongue of the world a blue/ chord coming the milky way, the jizm/ the stars shot out in."" While Baraka's constant anti-Eurocentrism can be tiring, at his best he never forgets his own advice: ""the universe/ is rhythm, and whatever is only is as/ swinging."" (Jan.)