Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note…. LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka (1961)

“… An Introduction by William J. Harris. I am so delighted that Poets House’s online series Chapbooks of the Mimeo Revolution is making Amiri Baraka’s first book, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note …., available again in its totality. This splendid small volume loses so much by being selected. It isn’t so much that it is a unified whole but all of its parts together create a complex portrait of a young Black bohemian trying to find his way and himself. The book was published in 1961 by Baraka’s own Totem Press in association with the maverick book dealer Ted Wilentz’s Corinth Books. At the time of publication Baraka was still LeRoi Jones. Almost twenty-seven, editor of the influential avant-garde magazine Yugen, married to his co-editor Hettie Jones, a white Jewish woman, and living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he was a central figure of the New York branch of the New American Poetry—that is, he was a principal member of the post-World War II American poetry avant-garde, which was immortalized in the pages of Donald Allen’s groundbreaking anthology The New American Poetry: 1945 – 1960. In a note at the front of Preface Baraka states, ‘For the most part, these poems cover a period from 1957 until 1960, with the last few poems having been written this year (1961). I have arranged the book in as strict a chronological order as I could manage . . . for reasons best known to other young (?) poets.’ His 1966 essay collection, Home, is also arranged chronologically. I think both are put together that way to show the poet confronting his conflicts and contradictions in real time, before the readers’ eyes, and not to be later ‘recollected in tranquility.’ Baraka is an autobiographical poet. In his 1959 poetics note from The New American Poetry, he observes, ‘I make a poetry with what I feel is useful & can be saved out of all the garbage of our lives. What I see, am touched by (CAN HEAR) . . . wives, gardens, jobs, cement yards where cats pee, all my interminable artifacts . . . ALL are a poetry, & nothing moves (with any grace) pried apart from these things.’ In Black Magic, in a 1964 poetic statement, he says: ‘I write poetry to investigate my self, my meaning and meanings.’ Let us look at poems in groups to suggest the worlds this burgeoning poet inhabited. The first cluster consists of three poems found early in the book; I call it playing with the abyss. That is, even though he feels anxiety, he is not totally overwhelmed by it. These poems reflect Baraka’s most unambiguous and relaxed relationships with the Beats and other white bohemians. The title poem, ‘Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note,’ most fully characterizes his situation in these poems. …”
Poets House
Poets House – Now Digitized: Amiri Baraka’s First Poetry Collection—Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . . .
Poetry Foundation

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