Amiri Baraka reads his poem, Dope, first published in 1979 in Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones.

Please click here for the text – will open in separate window. Baraka reads fast and with powerful emotion in the video – the text will help you follow:

Excerpted commentary from The Cambridge History of African American Literature:

…Dope…is one of the finest examples of a “scored” poem ever written…reveals the full maturation of Baraka’s appproach to sound-based poetics. Whereas “Black Art” (originally published in Baraka’s Black Magic, 1969) reflects modernist techniques of literary style on the printed page, “Dope” is barely intelligible in print. In fact, the recorded version is the definitive artifact.

Some explanation – keeping the poem in context with the time that it was written:

At the outset of the poem, Baraka parodies the sounds of a junkie who is strung out on herioin. However, these sounds, which are represented on the page as “uuuuuuuuu” are not visually intelligble. It is only when the poet’s voice is heard that meaning is produced because sounds signifies the referent of Baraka’s parody. 

Additional commentary here from Brian Michael Murphy:

Perhaps Questlove put it best, in his New York Times piece: “Whatever Baraka I’ve read, whenever I’ve read it, is bracing. It braces me. It keeps me upright from falling, even when I don’t agree, sometimes especially when I don’t agree.” 

More background on Baraka at The Poetry Foundation.

Talk amongst yourselves…