“Against the Speech of Friends”: Baraka’s White Friend Blues
Amiri Baraka envisions poetry to be a form of contentious position-taking in the literary field. In his poems, his plays, and his one highly experimental novel, Baraka's writing confronts, in diverse ways, the conflict between the nonconformist impulse and the desire to join forces with a collective artistic movement. From his older friend Frank O'Hara, Baraka learns that poetry itself can be an arena in which to grapple with friendship and its discontents, even to play off the writing of one's friends. However, Baraka's writings are fraught with even greater pain, urgency, and indecision than O'Hara's ambivalent poems. His works simultaneously celebrate and try to jettison a series of intertwined values and concepts: avant-garde poetics, whiteness, Western literary tradition, and, as this chapter suggests, homosexuality.
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