S O S: Poems 1961-2013
Amiri Baraka

Feb 2015


Trade Cloth

$30.00 US
($37.50 CAN)
978-0-8021-2335-0 | 9780802123350
0-8021-2335-X | 080212335X

12 per carton



American/African American

Winter 2015

Imprint Rights: P: W~D: W

Title Rights: USCO

Product Safety: Mfgr warrants no warnings apply

Published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Grove Press

A New York Times Editors' Choice

Fusing the personal and the political in high-voltage verse, Amiri Baraka—"whose long illumination of the black experience in America was called incandescent in some quarters and incendiary in others" (New York Times)—was one of the preeminent literary innovators of the past century. Selected by Paul Vangelisti, this volume comprises the fullest spectrum of Baraka's rousing, revolutionary poems, from his first collection to previously unpublished pieces composed during his final years.

Throughout Baraka’s career as a prolific writer (also published as LeRoi Jones), he was vehemently outspoken against oppression of African American citizens, and he radically altered the discourse surrounding racial inequality. The environments and social values that inspired his poetics changed during the course of his life, a trajectory that can be traced in this retrospective spanning more than five decades of profoundly evolving subjects and techniques. Praised for its lyricism and introspection, his early poetry emerged from the Beat generation, while his later writing is marked by intensely rebellious fervor and subversive ideology. All along, his primary focus was on how to live and love in the present moment despite the enduring difficulties of human history.

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.
On 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.

for Basil

Luxury, then, is a way of
being ignorant, comfortably
An approach to the open market
of least information. Where theories
can thrive, under heavy tarpaulins
without being cracked by ideas.

(I have not seen the earth for years
and think now possibly “dirt” is
negative, positive, but clearly
social. I cannot plant a seed, cannot
recognize the root with clearer dent
than indifference. Though I eat
and shit as a natural man ( Getting up
from the desk to secure a turkey sandwich
and answer the phone: the poem undone
undone by my station, by my station,
and the bad words of Newark.) Raised up
to the breech, we seek to fill for this
crumbling century. The darkness of love,
in whose sweating memory all error is forced.

Undone by the logic of any specific death. (Old gentlemen
who still follow fires, tho are quieter
and less punctual. It is a polite truth
we are left with. Who are you? What are you
saying? Something to be dealt with, as easily.
The noxious game of reason, saying, “No, No,
you cannot feel,” like my dead lecturer
lamenting thru gipsies his fast suicide.


That force is lost
which shaped me, spent
in its image, battered, an old brown thing
swept off the streets
where it sucked its
gentle living.
And what is meat
to do, that is driven to its end
by words? The frailest gestures
grown like skirts around breathing.
We take
unholy risks to prove
we are what we cannot be. For instance,

I am not even crazy.


They hate the idea
of love, and disconnect
it from power and intellect
by claiming only 5 senses
& sex.


I became a poet
Because every thing
Beautiful seemed
“poetic” to me.
I thought there were things
I didn’t understand
that wd make the world
poetry. I felt I knew
who I was but had to
Struggle, to catch up
w/ my self.
Now I do see me
sometimes, a few worlds
ahead, & I speed up, then,
put my head down,
Stretch my stride out
& dig
There me go, I scat &
sing, there me go.


There might be someone you love, some one you wanted
to be with, and then, found your self with, there were such
things, such lives and lovers. I am like that sometimes, I think,
some distant romantic wrapped in music. I wanted to know
myself, and found that was a lifetime’s work, the twists and
zig zags, dips and turns, all could disorient you, that you were
no longer you but somebody else masquerading as yourself’s
desire. Rain could come. The sky grow light. It could even be
twilight, in a foreign town. Where you walked under far noises
of invisible worlds. But when you remember all of your faces,
blown now gone forever in the wind, you’ll see that you were
always wanting to be you, you were always wanting to know
and love yourself, and you found a few faces, a few names,
that extended your life into other lives, and as time marches,
hours, days, decades dance, you’ll find your hand in someone
else’s hand, you’ll hear yourself thinking about some person
other than you and then look up and yes there will be some
other person some closeness and echoed tenderness, that
make us more than dots under the far away, that make us
more than split seconds of light


What beauty is not anomalous
And strange, what love is not
In danger and fragile, what goodness
Is not sometimey and sweet, what grand
Joyousness not shy and seeming incomplete
We are what we can be together never enough
Though without each other we don’t know our selves
And would spend the rest of our days looking over our
Shoulder at where we thought we saw ourselves
Crossing another street.


Some are beautiful.
Who could sing
All the songs we know?
How many of us that can, know
How many of those who sing know
What singing is.
So I who have sung and have heard song
Want to know the singers
And the song
I who have learned singing from the oldest singers
In the world and have sung some songs myself
Want to create that song that everybody knows
And that everybody will sing one day.
So what is left to do? That is how the song

for Sylvia or Amina

There is music
in lonely
blue music
purple music
black music
red music
but these are left from crowds
of people
listening and singing
from generation
to generation

All the civilizations humans have built
(speed us up we look like ants)
our whole lives lived in an inch
or two. And those few seconds
that we breathe

in that incredible speed
blurs of sight and sound
the wind’s theories

So for us to have been together, even
for this moment
profound like a leaf
blown in the wind
to have been together
and known you, and despite our pain
to have grasped much of what joy exists
accompanied by the ring and peal of your
romantic laughter

is what it was about, really. Life.
Loving someone, and struggling