knew the World Trade Center
was gonna get
poem by New Jersey's Black
New York, September 29, 2002
Jersey's Unrepentant Poet of Indignation
By MATTHER PURDY
NEWARK -- JUST before
Gov. James E. McGreevey introduced
Amiri Baraka last month as New
Jersey's new poet laureate, the celebrated
and controversial activist writer said he
warned the governor this might
"I said, 'Governor, you're going to
catch a lot of hell for this,' " Mr.
Baraka said. "He said, 'I don't care.' I
said, 'If you don't care, I don't care.'
Mr. Baraka still doesn't care.
But the governor suddenly does.
Political turmoil has found the last
virgin turf in New Jersey public life: the
The governor has demanded that Mr.
Baraka resign because a poem he read at a
poetry festival 10 days ago said Israel
had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11
attacks. Mr. Baraka is refusing to resign.
The governor's aides say Mr. McGreevey
cannot remove Mr. Baraka from his two-year
term, since he was selected by a committee
of poets and cultural aficionados. State
law gives that group the power only to
select, not oust, laureates.
Besides, poets are usually ignored, not
censored. "A sticky wicket," said a State
House aide, apparently practicing for the
laureate's job, should it open up.
In his offending poem, entitled
"Somebody Blew Up America," a litany of
massacres and oppression, Mr. Baraka
refers to five Israelis filming the
attacks, and asks:
- 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
In an interview Thursday, the day
before the governor demanded his
resignation, Mr. Baraka was unrepentant.
The artist formerly known as LeRoi Jones
has had so many phases -- Greenwich
Village beatnik, Harlem black nationalist,
bloodied warrior of the 1967 Newark riots,
Marxist, critic of Newark mayors -- that
he seemed unfazed by the rocky start of
his laureate phase.
Told he offended people, he said: "I
know. What can I do? I'm not perfect,
Reading the Internet convinced him that
Israel knew about Sept. 11 beforehand
below]. "Obviously they knew
about it, like Bush knew about it," he
said. Espousing a theory popular in parts
of the Muslim world, he said the White
House let it happen to get "carte blanche"
to have its way with Afghanistan, Iraq,
the rest of the Middle East. President
Bush knew in advance? "Absolutely,
absolutely, absolutely, absolutely."
And he added: "So did the Russians, so
did the Germans. Why do you think
investors sold their stock in United and
American Airlines the month before?"
Mr. Baraka's career at the keyboard and
on the street has been guided by the view
that the powerful conspire against the
powerless. "Terrorism," he said. "Black
people. We've been terrorized for years.
There's been no alert to stop the K.K.K.
and the skinheads."
OVER the years, Mr. Baraka has been
lauded and accused every which way. The
American Academy of Arts and Letters
called him "one of the most important
African-American poets since Langston
Hughes" when it inducted him last
year. He pleads guilty to the Communist
label and regrets his early anti-white
writings. In 1980, he wrote a self-defense
entitled "Confessions of a Former
Mr. Baraka, 67, gray and slightly
hunched, holds court in a large house in a
faded Newark neighborhood. His suspicion
of power oozes from every pore. He
mentions that he was named poet laureate
at the governor's mansion, called
Drumthwacket. Could a poet laureate ever
use Drumthwacket in a poem? "Let's see,"
he said, hardly missing a beat:
- This place must have some kind
- To be named
His selection as laureate honored his
strong voice, long career and prominence.
The committee chairwoman, Judith
Pinch, said that the group felt he
could promote poetry among city youths and
that "his strengths outweighed some past
reputation for being slightly
This standoff between governor and poet
is surprising in a state with a poetic
tradition that includes Walt Whitman,
William Carlos Williams, Allen
Ginsberg and a Turnpike rest stop
named for Joyce Kilmer. But Mr.
Baraka said, superfluously, that he
dislikes poetry "as decoration." He likes
strong stuff that rattles people. "If they
resent what I'm saying, I can resent their
resentment," he said, "but I'm not going
to censor them."
"Whatever they want to say, they can't
say, 'He's changed,' " Mr. Baraka said,
referring to himself. "They'll say, 'We're
trying to cool him out with the poet
laureate thing, but he's still nutty.'
items on this website:
Israelis detained for "puzzling
behavior" after WTC tragedy |
Detained Israelis Returned
Israelis languish in U.S. jails, Jewish
activists wondering why
"students" identified trying to get
into secure US building
asked Israeli Detainees if They Were
Spies | What
did the Mossad know in advance about
September 11 (and not pass on to USA
allies?) | Israeli
"students" identified trying to get
into secure US buildings
still Linger Six Months after September
11 | Investigative
Report: Intelligence Agents or "Art
York Post scoffs at Spy-Ring "Myth"
Irving comments, in A Radical's
Diary | Le
Monde, Paris: "Vast Israeli Spy Network
in the US" | Washington
has quietly deported hundreds of
Israeli "students" | Washington
Post journalist suggests it is "a
Express": A Hebrew report on those five
Israelis who cheered as WTC crashed
company, their Israeli boss vanished
without trace | Anti-war.com
joins the dots | The
Texas part of the Israeli spy ring
[map] | WorldNetDaily:
Friends think Flight 11 Israeli was
Another under-reported WTC mystery:
Israelis found with video footage of