Skip to content

5 Must-Read Poems By Amiri Baraka That Will Change Your Outlook On Life Forever

5 Must-Read Poems By Amiri Baraka That Will Change Your Outlook On Life Forever

It is the 9th anniversary of his passing.

Amiri Baraka was a revolutionary poet and playwright, best known for his contributions as founder of the Black Arts movement of the 60s and 70s, The New York Times reports. A sometimes-polarizing figure, Baraka’s poetry evolved over the years to reflect the times and his ever-changing ideals. He was a champion of the unheard and underserved, inextricably linking his political views to his poetry and prose. Over the course of his six-decade career, Baraka’s work continued to be hard hitting and thought provoking in nature, the beloved artist committing his life to his work with strict ideological adherence. 

A native of Newark, he served as New Jersey’s poet laureate and received numerous awards over the course of his lifetime, including the Obie Award for the 1964 Off-Broadway production “Dutchman,” the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He also served as an academic professor at a number of prestigious institutions, including Rutgers, Columbia, Yale and Stony Brook University where he served as emeritus professor of Africana studies until his death.

He passed away on January 9, 2014 at the age of 79, leaving behind an indelible mark and a lifetime of work to dissect and learn from. In homage of Baraka’s contributions and in observance of the 9th anniversary of his passing, here are 5 must-read poems by Amiri Baraka that will change your outlook on life forever:


In Memory of Radio


Who has ever stopped to think of the divinity of Lamont Cranston?

(Only Jack Kerouac, that I know of: & me.

The rest of you probably had on WCBS and Kate Smith,

Or something equally unattractive.)


What can I say?

It is better to have loved and lost

Than to put linoleum in your living rooms?


Am I a sage or something?

Mandrake's hypnotic gesture of the week?

(Remember, I do not have the healing powers of Oral Roberts...

I cannot, like F. J. Sheen, tell you how to get saved & rich!

I cannot even order you to the gas chamber satori like Hitler or Goddy Knight)


& love is an evil word.

Turn it backwards/see, see what I mean?

An evol word. & besides

who understands it?

I certainly wouldn't like to go out on that kind of limb.


Saturday mornings we listened to the Red Lantern & his undersea folk.

At 11, Let's Pretend

& we did

& I, the poet, still do. Thank God!


What was it he used to say (after the transformation when he was safe

& invisible & the unbelievers couldn't throw stones?) 'Heh, heh, heh.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.'


O, yes he does

O, yes he does

An evil word it is,

This Love.


Young Soul


First, feel, then feel, then

read, or read, then feel, then

fall, or stand, where you

already are. Think

of your self, and the other

selves . . . think

of your parents, your mothers

and sisters, your bentslick

father, then feel, or

fall, on your knees

if nothing else will move you,

then read

and look deeply

into all matters

come close to you

city boys—

country men

Make some muscle

in your head, but

use the muscle

in yr heart


Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note

for Kellie Jones, born 16 May 1959 


Lately, I've become accustomed to the way 

The ground opens up and envelopes me 

Each time I go out to walk the dog. 

Or the broad edged silly music the wind 

Makes when I run for a bus... 


Things have come to that. 


And now, each night I count the stars, 

And each night I get the same number. 

And when they will not come to be counted, 

I count the holes they leave. 


Nobody sings anymore. 


And then last night, I tiptoed up 

To my daughter's room and heard her 

Talking to someone, and when I opened 

The door, there was no one there... 

Only she on her knees, peeking into 


Her own clasped hands.




A closed window looks down

on a dirty courtyard, and black people

call across or scream or walk across

defying physics in the stream of their will


Our world is full of sound

Our world is more lovely than anyone’s 

tho we suffer, and kill each other

and sometimes fail to walk the air


We are beautiful people 

with african imaginations

full of masks and dances and swelling chants


with african eyes, and noses, and arms,

though we sprawl in grey chains in a place

full of winters, when what we want is sun.


We have been captured,

brothers. And we labor

to make our getaway, into

the ancient image, into a new


correspondence with ourselves

and our black family. We read magic

now we need the spells, to rise up

return, destroy, and create. What will be


the sacred words?


As A Possible Lover



silence, the way of wind


in early lull. Cold morning

to night, we go so

slowly, without 


to ourselves. (Enough

to have thought

tonight, nothing

finishes it. What 

you are, will have

no certainty, or

end. That you will

stay, where you are,

a human gentle wisp

of life. Ah…)



as a virtue. A single

specious need 

to keep

what you have

never really



Blessings to the spirit and legacy of Amiri Baraka. Because of him, we can!

5 must-read poems by Amiri Baraka that will change your outlook on life forever. Amiri Baraka, May 1970. Photo Courtesy of Eddie Hausner/The New York Times