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Black Mountains Beyond Mountains

By Amiri Baraka, Edward Dorn & Claudia Moreno Pisano

By Amiri Baraka, Edward Dorn & Claudia Moreno Pisano

First thanks Claudia Moreno Pisano for enabling us to reprint the following slightly compacted excerpt from Amiri Baraka & Edward Dorn: The Collected Letters, which is edited and annotated by Ms. Pisano. This swatch of the correspondence between Baraka—soon-to-be-magus of Black Arts—and Dorn—Black Mountain poet—gets to the heart of their relationship in the 60s. Their calls and responses here were sparked by a disagreement over Castro’s Cuba that's picked up new resonance since it's easy to hear echoes of the Cold War in our time. What may be most striking now, though, is not the poets’ efforts to go international but their shared clarity about the depth (and width) of white supremacy in America.[1]

Ms. Pisano provides the back story for these letters in the italicized introduction below and offers more commentary later. B.D.

In the spring of 1959, Fidel Castro visited Washington, D.C., on a public relations mission; the United States had become fearful of Castro’s intentions by this time, and Castro was attempting to alleviate these fears. While he was in the United States, the New York Times printed an article about Dr. Olga Herrara Marcos: “A military court sentenced Dr. Olga Herrara Marcos today to death by firing squad. She is believed to be the first woman to be sentenced to death in the history of the republic.” Marcos had been found guilty of being an informant to the Batista regime, giving up the locations of the rebels. Shortly after this announcement, Time magazine ran a picture of Marcos looking terrified and pathetic in the courtroom. The events struck a nerve with Dorn, who wrote a poem about it at the time (“the Herrara poem”), “An Address for the First Woman to Face Death in Havana,” which disparaged the idea of big nations and alternately pitied and excoriated those who got caught in the machinery. He sent it now, in 1961, to Jones, who promised to “answer” it. Jones “disapproved of the poem; ‘counter-revolutionary’ was his phrase” (van Hallberg 56).

[Baraka responds to Dorn’s “Address” is the opening note in this selection from their correspondence. B.D.]

Oct 6, 1961.....Dear Ed,

Here is an item especially for you! I hope you will send them something. The poem you sent me I cd (and have) comment on [...], but not here. I wd even like to publish it, in Bear probably, tho I plan to answer it (like in Communist publications) not w/ poem, or maybe w/ poem. But I have to answer it. A good book for you to read (not to change the subject) wd be The Soul of Man Under Socialism by none other than our good friend, Oscar Wilde. It is really a marvelous book, even if it is couched in what must be the most purple socio-political terms in history. It cd almost be sub-titled Capitalism as a Big Camp.

Thank you for those lovely pictures of Pocatello. It looks mysterious! Anyway, speaking of Mitch Levertov, his wife just took a poem of mine for The Nation. Although we exchanged quite a few notes re/ aesthetics & that horseshit. O.K., I hate writing long hand. David Poole’s Condition of Rational Inquiry wd also stand you in good substance for yr long asceticism. That’s what the west is, ain’t it? Asceticism? I pause, for a reply!

Yaws, Roi

Have you heard of new vol. D. Allen is doing? Send anything?

Oct 10 [1961].....Poky,

Come on, back off. I’m not no fucking counter-anything. I’m as truly gassed as anyone, but much more embarrassed than others, at the poor prospects of fellow poets singing the praises of any thing so venal as a State. I am afraid I am not very interested in the “argument” aspects of a statement like the Herrara poem. It wasn’t written “against” anything, as ascetic, (was that aesthetics) aside, you ought to know the very word Batista makes me puke. The modern state, revolutionary or not, is run like a Grauman’s Chinese opening. Everybody has some scene, a trademark, like a beard, or a fat stomach and bald head, or a wig-type haircut, with big white teeth sticking out of the middle of the smile. Piss on it. The only point I ever had is that when a picture, namely of Mrs. Herrara, Marcos, is printed, showing her puckered up babyface tears, brought forth by the lunatic braggart announcement of her death, it is a matter of public shame. Sides, are a bigassed drag. The biggest small-talk of all, like which one are you on? motherfucker. I think I know what kind of a stupid, scared, caught woman she was. But whatever she did, or what those who murdered her did, or their “reasons,” or her “reasons,” my limited prospect of the thing is completely correct. And satisfying for everyone. Because there is no embarrassment in sympathy. Aside from the fact that “sympathizers” are always assholes.

Thanks too for the titles, I am always glad to hear of books. Altho I don’t plan to use them, ie, in the way you suggest. I don’t see the thing as “rational” at all, and perhaps you’d stick to the view that that’s the trouble. Whatever the Cuban people are doing, god blesses them, and for however long they can make it. A statement in poem such as I sent you is highly accidental, in the same way junk gathering sculpture is, and gratifying accidents are a really bigger part of the West than that asceticism you mention. If I had seen a picture of a Pre-Castro victim of the same system of organized horseshit, approximately the same thing wld have come out. This is one of the famous limitations of occasional writing. Its alignments are like the ligaments of a starved man, very clear. If you feel you have to answer it, please do. But if you plan to take a line like: Exhibit 1—an example of a counter-revolutionary hyena getting his kicks—then I wld rather not have anything to do with it. What I am trying to say is, that if you think the poem is vulnerable to propaganda purposes of your own, then I am not sure I want to meet that kind of test yet. Let the National Review worry about that aspect, if that’s it. The Wieners poem is one of the greatest of his, or almost anyone’s, isn’t it? Ya, wow. By the way did you get to send that Yugen to Raworth?

I was wondering; how does the winter hang there now.

Love, Ed

By the way, I am sending Allen that long poem, part of which, was printed by Bear. Landscapes. If he takes it, which is unlikely, he’ll contact you I assume, abt notices [...] if there are any etc.

Like the more I think abt it, can’t you read? The tone and meaning of that poem are perfectly clear. I don’t mean “just to me”—but wholly. I wish you’d make as clear to me what you mean by counterrevolutionary. The issue is the simple one of machination, but which is no more simple than revolution. The only valid relationship I can see between bigassed nations—Russia & USA—and their more pipsqueak imitators is that the bigasses have what the little asses want too—but with this new tack—they say they need it. Which is only a part truth. Most of what constitutes the “good” life, no one needs. What excitement is there beyond feeding, clothing, and housing anyone? It all ends with the same dull propositions polarized by that big trick “consumption and production.” But “leaders” are all bigassed in their way. What happens to the so called poor fucking people is a residue of cynicism which is made “classic” by every age—Russia & USA are the twin progenitors of those conditions now. A France or a Germany never made it that big. When I hear Cuba si, USA no, I think—fuck both of ’em. They agree with each other so much. USA has a bigger paw on the rope, that’s all.

Oct 11, 1961.....Roi

It gets thick here. Last July my friend Ray Obermayr was having a drink down at a place called the Court Tavern. In walks these performers, part of the company of the Ink Spots who were playing a gig at a place called the Green Lantern. The owners refused to serve them. Ray said, ok, I know a place you can get a drink. He took them over to the Jim Dandy (the JD) which is a colored bar, the only one in Poky. This is a railroad town, you dig, the string runs from Portland to Denver on this particular line, the UP. On that line there’s pot, and the lighter forms of shit. It follows the string. The other night I talked to a shade cat who was busted in Burley, if you can dig that, a place of 5 thousand souls. So they get to the JD and have a drink. The local head of the N double[2] hears abt it by this time, a Mr. Wood, porter I guess, who makes a run from here to Denver. OK. They, He, Ray, and two other cats go back over to the Court to test it. (This year a piece of “liberal” legislation was passed in Idaho saying Negroes cld drink and eat anywhere. You know...makes a fairer state, but don’t use it. In the Court, Wood asked for the test drink and was refused, meanwhile from the bar some cracker cat yells at Ray, are you with these niggers, and Ray says yes, and he hallers niggerlover, then breaks a bottle and comes at all of them. The two other guys cut and that left Ray and Wood. The Cracker cut Wood a big gash on the neck and then the fight was on, with Ray and Wood backed into a narrow corridor going past the bar into the back room.

The only way they survived it was that not more than two or three or four of them murderers cld get to them in that narrow passage. Wood, an old man, handled himself with professional skill, and Ray used to box, and is tough anyway. So in their way they clobber ’em.

Ray tried in the following days to keep his own bit straight by going to the college president and putting it on the line, thinking he wanted to get it out right off, rather than waiting till the middle of the year to be fired, or better, more likely, having it suggested he leave.

He got quite a few threatening calls, I’m gonna get you, you fucking niggalova. OK. He got a couple today. I guess the whole place is threatened, on edge.

The trial has been going on recently, many hearings. There are two cases. One is against the guy who held the broken bottle. Assault. The other is the civil rights case. In both the tavern people stack the case with witnesses who lied their asses off. It looks now like it will be held that the man never held a bottle.

Court room scene. Real suspender flipping lawyer saying to uh Mr. Obermay, that is your name isn’t it, Professsssor Obermayr, uh you do teach at the College don’t you, well, now, isn’t that interesting, a proooffeesssseer. My My. Uh when did you start subscribing to the Daily Worker, oh you never did, well, uh how long have you been a communist. Oh. Uh, professor, uh, what were the people at the bar drinking, you were there weren’t you. Did any of them have Cokes? (the bar was filled etc)

That’s the way it went—also like—Prof Obermayr, uh, what color were the men who entered the Court Tavern on such and such a date. To which Ray answered, one was medium brown, one was dark brown, and one was pink. (him)

At the time it happened the local press gave it rather shitty angling. The AP called a couple of times from Salt Lake and it looked like enough attention would be forthcoming to make the CR part of it stick. But it got silently dropped. The thing Ray felt about it was simple enough—that it was the only time in his life in which, without thinking too much about it, or even at all, he had Fought for better or worse, for something he deeply believed in. No matter how subject that is to analysis, it must be true.

The prosecuting attorney is quite uninterested in pushing the case at all, because he obviously wants to be again. For instance he didn’t intervene once when the defense was putting those questions. The technical evasions are many and standard, some of the people involved in the brawl weren’t picked up because “they couldn’t be found,” and you can guess at the size of Pocatello.

So I guess it cld be said to have gotten out of hand. The threats are strange, like all threats are—one needn’t believe them, pay attention, yet one must. I guess I am worried abt the whole thing. The N double doesn’t seem to have given Wood any help, altho I don’t know what they cld do, I just don’t know. Of course it is up to the state to “prosecute,” and they don’t look willing. At all, man.

OK. Tonight I thot I’d write and tell you abt it...for no immediate reason, just I suppose hoping you’d have something to say abt it, altho God knows I don’t know what, it is just that the whole jig cld be up for him, Ray, you know.

Love, Ed

By the way, I wonder if you know—Bob Creeley’s second oldest daughter, a blueeyed, lovely little girl, was killed in a landslide at Arroyo Embudo a week ago Sunday a week ago Sunday.[3] It is a tragedy I can hardly follow.

Idaho Oct 12 [1961]

LR: That poem. That’s awfully good, isn’t it. That slow, “contemplative” phrase. I don’t “understand it” for anything, but so much is going on, very thickly. I feel I ought to turn around, or something, go out for a walk. I guess I will later. And the surplus verities. They are likewise wild. I don’t know how you get such an abstract thing as “the silence of motives” to mean so much. I guess because it does empty. You will get my letter I mailed to you as I picked this out of the mailbox. Wow. The thing with Leslie, Creeley’s daughter hangs over us. Very much. We knew her it turns out too well. The way you are haunted by a face, transplanted to every context. Same in death or love, twin poles, an express runs like clockwork back and forth between them. Have been moping around with tears always there. Man, at this point I ache with something. Enough. Anxious to hear from you—love Ed

On Wednesday, October 18, 1961, Jones was arrested at his apartment by FBI agents. He was charged with sending obscenity—i.e., issue No. 9 of the Floating Bear—through the mail, much as City Lights publisher and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti had been charged in 1957 for sending Allen Ginsberg’s Howl through the United States Postal Service. Issue No. 9 contained “Roosevelt After Inauguration” by William Burroughs and a short play by Jones from his still in progress The System of Dante’s Hell; the charges stemmed from Burroughs’s political satire and the overt homosexuality in Jones’s play. Though the Floating Bear was not sold publicly, (per Diane DiPrima) “What LeRoi and I had failed to take into account was that at least one of the folks on our mailing list was in prison. Harold Carrington, a Black writer in Rahway, New Jersey, never got his copy of Floating Bear # 9. Instead, a warden who routinely read all the mail, turned it into the postal authorities.” Di Prima herself was also charged, though rather than picking her up at her apartment, they held Jones without setting bail until she turned up so that she would, instead, be forced to turn herself in (di Prima Recollections 270).

In this letter, Jones continues his argument with Dorn about the Herrara poem. His note about “bulgarian hats” is a reference to one of Dorn’s poems, “Prayer for the People of the World” (“Did America say give me your poor? / Yes for poor is the vitamin not stored / it goes out in the urine of all endeavor. / So Poor came in long black flea coats /and bulgarian hats / spies and bombers / and she made five rich while flies covered the rest / who were suppressed or murdered / or out-bred their own demise.”) Jones began articulating here his growing sense that a poem could only function politically and ideologically, where Dorn’s idea in the Herrara poem was about the very specific expression of sentiment involved in this woman’s life. The ideology was “accidental”; the sentiment would have applied, Dorn implied, no matter what political regime caused it.

[1961 October].....Dear Ed,

In all, a terrible week. With the Creeley tragedy at the head of the list, my god, a whole chronicle of uglies in the last week (or news of it). Maya Deren, the filmmaker died at 39...Booker Little, the trumpet player, friday, of leukemia at 23...Basil’s show cancelled by lying gallery owner, DeKooning booked for socking a guy in the bar...& now I add something as you can see from enclosed clipping. Bullshit, all of it. But they want me, I spose, and maybe I just oughta get the fuck out of here??

Your letter stunned me, also aggravated. Idaho too? I didn’t think there was enough coons out there to stir up any trouble. Oh, well, one drop makes you whole, or something. Garvey was right. Back to Africa (i.e., the ofays).

Right now we’ve got to get some kind of civil rights law to handle our case...also round up all literary types to say we’re “serious” or some other bullshit. They also picked up my ole caked up waterpipe and, as the stupid muthafucka grinned at me, “we’re gonna an-o-lize it to see what you smoke in here.” Fuck ’em. He also asked me where I got it, I told him I won it at Coney Island. (1 pt.)

Also, as you can see, the newspapers dragged my poor old bourgeois daddy into it. He’s about as true blue american as they come. I sure hope they don’t bug him too much. Shit, he’s worked for those bastards TWENTY SEVEN years. Oh, well.

Ellie Dorfman asked me to send you 12 copies of the book. They are on their way. Chance it might be reviewed in The Second Coming. Also, I sent it to Denise at The Nation, which might prove something. She just last week reviewed my book, Gil’s and Paul’s. She was enthralled by Gil, respected Paul, and said I was a comer. (had “promise,” as O. Wilde wd say).

If my letter re your poem sounded crusadery and contentious I’m sorry. But I have gone deep, and gotten caught with images of the world, that exists, or that will be here even after WE go. I have not the exquisite objectivity of circumstance. The calm precise mind of Luxury. Only we, on this earth, can talk of material existence as just another philosophical problem. Poets of the middle ages (we go back to St. Hugh, and the number they gave soul and body. Single consciousness, the renaissance...and forget that these people with “bulgarian hats” are a Majority. Your body does not hurt you.) I sit for hours reading books of obscure philosophy, magic formulas for bringing back the dead, &c. & have been hungry for four days to make myself a hero! O.K., we are both good men, but I think, now, that mere goodness is a limitation...just as Christians try to limit Christ to mere Goodness. “Moral earnestness” (if there be such a thing) ought to be transformed into action. (You name it). I know we can think that to write a poem, and be Aristotle’s God is sufficient. But I can’t sleep. And I do not believe in all this relative shit. There is a right and a wrong. A good and a bad. And it’s up to me, you, all of the so called minds, to find out. It is only knowledge of things that will bring this “moral earnestness.” We are pushed around by our inferiors! (But then the “accident” of my birth has pushed me into this impasse, I feel guilty everytime I experience some racial slight or bullshit like that, since I begin to whine inside & mumble things like...but I’m intelligent, and beautiful, and learned & smart & used to...&c. Oh christ fuck shit (as McClure wd say).

The point is that I will not be put in the position of justifying evil. I will not make it relative. I will not allow myself to be used. I am a man, simply. A black man, if you will. And there is a huge monkey of self-hatred goes with that, I don’t need to tell you. I feel I am copping out, letting people down, if I say in the face of this ugliness “I am a poet.”

If you say of the woman in the poem “The first” woman to die in Habana...you know it is strictly “poetic.” Not at all true. For the same reasons Fidel did. I tell you a maudlin short story...My grandfather, (first man to open a super market in Alabama...but run out with fire when he prospered) came to New Jersey and opened another store...became a big Republican Politician. When he wanted to break with the organization, and run independent for Assemblyman they warned him not to. (A stupid, bullshit job like Assemblyman) O.K., he went ahead and ran...and on the night of the election with him winning, on the way home from his office he was hit in the head with a street lamp! “It just fell on his head and killed him,” they told my grandmother. A Streetlamp! He was over 6 feet and 200 pounds. A huge vital intelligent boot. But when that thing happened, that republican light mashing out his brains, he sat for 5 years in a rocking chair by the stove and spat in a cup, never saying another word. This happened in the 40s. About 3 years ago, the Republicans sent my grandmother 5 Gs for the thing! There is specific evil. With no easy analogies. Eastland is an evil man. I think Castro means to do better. It is some small thing I want. Some goodness I have to see. And these motherfuckers here are going to kill me for it.

Well, Ok I ain’t gonna be the James Baldwin of the Beat Generation. I add only that it is still warm here, my babies cry all the time and thanks for the kind words about the poem.

We here looking forward to Creeley. Wish you cd make it out here again. I ain’t coming to Idaho without my 45 and 17 nubians.

O.K., love to yrs

Oct. 21, [1961].....Dear Roi

You hit me rather hard, I deserved it, and am a little ashamed, more, a lot. I’d thot of this more as a technical problem, ie, if I found myself on the same street with you slugging I’d slug too, I don’t think I really wld ask what you were slugging abt. I wouldn’t, no, never. I never have connected loyalty to anything save love, ideas, never, with them, principles also, I am a renegade, they aren’t worth a shit and you know it. Christ fuck shit is definitely poetic. An internalized diarrhea that never makes it to a hard, holdable ball of shit. People who write of wind, have, simply crossed the barrier, with some courage there, even, I shld think. But in any case it is the final lapse into uselessness. That wasn’t the question. It is emphatically not poetic to say the first woman, the poetic form, has always been, that plural spread, the 20,000ndth. A multitudinous voice. Springs from a rotten center where the world at that you apparently have a keener right to that knowledge than I. I willingly back off from it to some other corner. What I have to say is of course valid. Every man, every woman, who died, dies first, they then are the first ones, one. Any other tack is silly. Unless you of course want to disparage death. The exclusiveness of action is a little difficult to get around. Don’t come to me about relativity, I’ve read Time and Western Man [4] too, or whatever else, and that’s all you know of that abstraction, what you’ve read. In a sighting on right and wrong I am at least as didactic as you.

I get so fucking lonely here, I’d like to tell you this: In NY last spring I thot you the only man who said anything, stood for anything, anything, AND STILL DO, (Allen, the other man there has become so iconoclastic with his “world” I yawn (like my mother used to say of carnivals when I wanted to go to one, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all).

But if you’ve seen one poet you haven’t. Poets are the only fucking people I can stand in this era, everybody else is not worth it.

Like Denise likes Gil because he writes lyrics, and since she can’t write anymore at all, that makes it. But you are a comer. Uh huh. So it is not so simple minded as doing something or anything. Frankly when I got that blurb from the save Cuva committee w/ Elaine DeKooning etc, I was so fucking embarrassed I didn’t know whether or not to sign or not. The fucking stupid lukewarm language, whoever wrote that for all of us liberals was damn near illiterate. Who wants to sign shit like that? But I did because it seemed more the point, your “Fidel’s gonna do ‘better’” than not. But it is a crappy association. That’s indeed the exclusiveness of so called action—you exclude the fire to keep the embers alive. Good God! The laziness of their statement, likewise their action. Those pricks would jump on any ice truck going by. Petty people, like petty rulers, or petty policy makers, piss me off more than big fat billiard heads, I guess.

I guess all I am arguing is that a poet is only ashamed of it if he’d better be something else. That one poor attempt to cut you back, in that poem of mine, The Biggest Killing, is just a prelude to all this I guess. That revolutions are invariably shortsighted enough to determine usefulness, thus starting the assininity of set process all over again. That selfish, exclusive ego again! I don’t find it easy to live in my body either, altho true it is white and shldnt present too great a problem. Your grandfather is not a single instance, no instances are. Color in that sense is ridiculous. I will not hear any of that in the face of the expendability of 40% of the world’s population. Cops even, have this in common with us. When rulers vie in their arrogance for housing and rice and chickens, and nickel, or nylon, at the expense of a mass they know anyway will be automated out very shortly, relativities like “better” become truly time-relative. In that sense the hero is truly dead, in that he is that corrupt, and everybody, deeply and really, is cynical.

But poets are that only outcast force that cannot gain by being chided with plumbing,[5] as I pray John Wieners will not be. It is utterly pointless to think action is a complement to speech. Speech then becomes set and then finally, swallowed. Up. I mean down. Wow, down. And right back out that same plumbing. None of us can help it that this is a sick time. The trouble came about because the mass, a boy with a postmaster father became intelligent, or agent, or agent, so their goddamn means. The time does not flounder for them, they seek uses, their own, only.

It’s like that modern French idea that you can only be a true man if you’ve had an adventure, namely killed someone. And all that complicated horseshit about it ought to be for a “right cause.” I mean in this case of Ray’s, he is that kind of man altho he did it, pasted a white cracker in the choppers and will have his ass burned for it, he doesn’t have any desire to see that bastard go to jail for cutting the coon on the neck. It isn’t that way, I mean simple minded, you understand. It is to Fidel. Operatively, right or wrong, better, right and wrong can be very goddamn convenient hangers for what the hell you feel about something, and that’s back to the World, and only poets know what that’s all about. And if you’re afraid, for whatever embarrassment, to say you’re a poet, then god pity you, you mother, you’ve really copped. In that sense B Russell[6] is better today than anyone else in that he speaks to all, not some duped up ear with a built in trigger spring. And that angry wet chicken look he has at 90, wow, there’s your elegant mind, and man, he hasn’t said for one minute he’s not anything, he’s said on the contrary nothing but fuck you, which is infinitely more readable than Christ fuck shit. But then you wouldn’t put down direct address.

OK. I started out again not to argue because I don’t have any argument with you, at all, as I said. Shit, you must think I’m awfully out of it. But I am the one cat who’s got straight what poetic is, if nothing else. And I haven’t put it down yet. I may, probably will see you in the spring, if they haven’t done you in by that time. I have a reading in Jefferson? Missouri end of April, Lincoln College, that’s a shade school, and then one at a place called Baldwin-Wallace, which is in Ohio! I don’t know how I will make it save by hitch-hike, but I’ll be there like they say. Enclosed is the folder from Lincoln and that’s ma pitcher. I don’t know why I look that way. Habit I guess. The clip you sent w/ yr visage was just as depressing to me as what you said to me because they were both so fucking true. I mean true. Wld it be too naïve to ask is that the end of Bear? Goddamn, and that Burroughs thing was one of the best things you printed, perhaps the. Is there anything at all I cld possibly do to help, way out here. I can’t imagine it but if there is, say. A letter of protest. Ok, that sounds like shit. But I think Raworth might have good loud London contacts, I will send the clip on to him, and if you think so say to me or him. OK.

Look, I don’t want you to think badly of me for all this horseshit I’ve been sending you, I don’t really want to fall out of anything, and besides that, my hangups are not your own. I don’t even know why I say that save that I have such a real and living respect for the tight emotional verity of your last letter. I read it in a bar down in Poca and it set me right off the stool. I don’t know...the point is you are right, and that’s it. I don’t think I’ll let the Marcos poem get out, for all the reasons you enunciate meaning I am too slack at this point to know better. I said some irrelevant things, tho, there, that were true anywhere. But it isn’t that much at any rate. I hate it that I took up your time with ground that you’re possibly not interested in now. Or possibly ever were.

Oct 22 [1961]

Had to go out last night in face of raging snow storm...wood, all that unhappy jazz, I mean when it catches you, but wild beautiful, even if white weather. Got a card from Creeley saying he wouldn’t be getting to Harvard and thus seeing Charles after all, which is sad because he wanted to so much. I keep being brought back to that reality that my body doesn’t hurt, it must be you are right, irresistibly. I get sorry all over again for that poem, and the letter I sent. Shit. I know it isn’t enough for either of us to be “good,” and I ain’t even that, not even that. But there must be times when you are. Jesus that was a beautiful letter. And from it I see more than I ever did, of those things. There must be 2000 or 3000 Negroes in Idaho. Funny thing, I was telling that Englishman, TR,[7] about it, and he said essentially, altho I know he’d know less, the same thing you did, Idaho? I thot that shit was restricted to the deep south, the latter you know better of. I mean than. And your poor goddamn grandfather...that it has to be a colored grandfather is the sadness, because I get sad when you separate me from yourself with that color shit. Which is a “practical” point. I get excluded for some specious detachment. But then you do too, until the stance is innately real, for instance how long wld the Bear be allowed to go in Cuba? You’ve been there and may know better, abt that, but I do wonder.

I don’t know...we may perish here this winter...as you may, and admittedly for not half the reason...And if I say I believe you that it is up to you and me, all of the so called minds, to find out, what, I mean how...do you say. Shld I get my ass to the so called city where there is no place at all for me (because I am Not just another poet sitting in Dillon’s). I know it is too true I get sententious where I should make the point. This is an apology.

The snow deep as hell now abt 2 feet, the sun out, too bright to look anywhere. We’re sorta cozy in this little shack, two fires going, plus Coltrane Giant Steps. Be goddamn careful...I don’t suppose I will get a very quick answer from you, naturally, but keep in mind please I am anxious about the scene there and about you especially. Ok, give our love to Hettie and the baby, Lucia has mentioned you and the baby in letters, so I guess everything is going ok?

Love to all of you—Ed


1 Just now, the point counterpoint between Baraka and Dorn throws shadows on a battle in the blogosphere between (the Atlantic’s) Ta-Nehisi Coates and (New Republic’s) Jon Chait. Their recent polemics led to Coates' moving, historically informed takedown of Chait’s case that an autonomous “culture of poverty” is more of a drag on African Americans than the legacy of white supremacy. Coates’ posts were in the tradition of Baraka’s and Dorn’s letters. Chait, OTOH, despite being one of the sharpest young liberal social critics, has still got a racial mountain to climb. Coates has already given him a good reading list, but Baraka’s and Dorn’s letters might provide a little lift too.


3 In New Mexico; the eight-year-old Leslie Creeley was digging a tunnel in the sand when it collapsed onto her.

4 Wyndham Lewis, Time and the Western World, 1927

5 This is a reference to Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems, “Song 3,” in which Olson reminisces about his father standing in the doorway of his house where “the plumbing / that it doesn’t work.” The “boy with a postmaster father” in this letter is Olson.

6 Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and historian, 1872-1970.

7 Thomas Raworth, British poet and artist, b. 1938.

Editor’s Note: Ms. Pisano provides more extensive notes to this correspondence in the volume, Amiri Baraka & Edward Dorn.

From April, 2014

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