For the late poet Amiri Baraka, poetry was about the sound of the words — that the poems should come alive when they were read aloud. “I’m trying to make the poems as musical as I can — from the inception,” he said in 1980. “So that whether they’re read on the page, or people read them aloud, or I read them aloud, the musicality will be kind of a given.”
Baraka, who died in 2014, was one of the most important and controversial figures in African-American literature. On Tuesday, to mark Black History Month, Grove Press is publishing a career-spanning anthology of Baraka’s poetry called SOS: Poems 1961-2013.
In his poetry, Baraka incorporated the rhythms and melodies of jazz. (He wrote music criticism and his seminal book Blues People — written under his given name, LeRoi Jones — is still in print.) Baraka said he looked at the texts of his poems like scores for pieces of music.