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Hong Chung Ryan Gallagher AP LIT 12 October 2010
Kenyatta Listening to Mozart: An Explication Upon reading the title of the poem, “Kenyatta Listening to Mozart” by Amiri Baraka, the reader is confronted with an interesting composition of juxtaposed agreement. This contextual agreement of the contrariety of ‘things’ runs fluid throughout the poem, merging two opposite sides of one spectrum in a consensual middle. Baraka dismisses the notion of ‘separatism’ and condones the intermix of ideas and styles that could be generated through collective collaboration. This encouraged synthesizing of different ideas, styles, and “beings” are expressed to articulate the way in which, true, pure unadulterated poetry is written and created. Poetry derived from a mecca of variety and abstraction, concocted out of the freedom one has to express their opinions as liberally as one desires, away from the constraints and mediocrity of normalcy. In the first stanza of the poem, conveniently continuing the title, the speaker paints the image of “Kenyatta listening to Mozart/ on the back trails/ in sun glasses”. Kenyatta a name seemingly derived from African roots is depicted listening to very European, Mozart. The mingling of this exotic African character and the classic European emblem that is Mozart is conceptually conflicting, generally speaking, not mainstream. It is like black and white, even a little literally. However, Baraka engages the act between Kenyatta and Mozart further, as Kenyatta is listening to Mozart “on the back trails (1)”,
the back trails indicative of veering away from mainstream culture, from the main roads, again supporting the thesis of merging confliction. Baraka sets the depiction against the “warm air (2)” that “blows cocaine (2)” to the “brains/ of American poets in San Francisco (3-4).” Presumably this atmosphere that Baraka has painted supports the familiar notion of creativity and drug use. Poets and poetry to be specific, are the topic of discussion. This sub culture of poets, who uses cocaine as an outlet to unleash thoughts and ideas, hashes the idea in which poetry is created. Fueled by euphoric feelings catalyzed by drugs, cocaine for instance, poetry is born out of the abstraction of ideas, of images, of feelings only attained through drug use. However, the bigger subject is not the practice of drug use to create art, but rather the cohesion of these artful muses (drugs only a pedestal). The first part of the poem goes to suggest the nature of poetry, in all its abstractions, it is unbounded. In the second part of the poem, Baraka expresses the consequences of a nonsynthesized relationship of ideas. Plainly and boldly stated “Separate/ and lose (5-6)” points towards the outcome of trying to filter ideas, molding them into specifics. Poetry in essence should be abstract with no specific structure or form, being able to bond and adapt into a versatile concept. Pertaining to this idea of poetry being an abstract art form, Baraka articulates the image of “Spats (6)” brushing through the “undergrowths of fiction (7).” The connotation of ‘spat‘, an image, a sound, a feeling, is very spontaneous and rebellious in nature, so to have ‘spats’ of it growing in the ‘undergrowths’- or beneath the surface of fiction (poetry) indicates the spontaneity and artisan like skill required to create poetry. This harmonious relationship of unbounded poetry is translated through the depiction of the birds, “mathematics bird/ undressed../in sympathy with absolute/ stillness
(7-9)“, the mathematics bird is commentary on bird’s instinct to migrate, this union of instinctual behavior is contrasted by “absolute stillness.” Yet again, the juxtaposition in the poem serves another set of conflicting, yet amicable pairing. It is due to the mastery of the Baraka’s language that the reader is transfixed with the lucidity of the words, completely disregarding the conflict of suggestions in the content of the poem. His form works to amplify the greater subtext of poetry, a poetry with the power to transcend barriers of race, time, and logic. Poetry can achieve this effect, to disregard the conventional and join the unusual. This is seen by the arrangement of ideas projected in Baraka’s choice of syntax and syntax structure, as he chooses to indent the last portion of his poem in an erratic, yet artful composition. Baraka supplements this idea that poetry coincides with abstraction- a conflicting abstraction that merges together to create a pleasing aesthetic. However, the reader reading the poem might question, what is this particular abstraction that Baraka is teasing the reader with? And to which one might add, how is this successful synthesis of abstraction work to create a solid meaning? In line 11, the reader is introduced to this problem of “weighted circumstance”. The weighted circumstance is the “zoo of consciousness (13)” that Baraka elaborates upon. First off, the irony of ‘zoo’ and ‘consciousness’ works to illuminate how logic is surrendered to abstraction in art, poetry needs no logic (no logic that can be ‘logically’ justified anyways), however, Baraka acknowledges it as a challenge to steer away from the conventional methods of thinking that appropriately exist “anywhere (15).” Later in the stanzas, Baraka works to arrange more conflicting opposites to create rhythm and poetic ‘logic’. Words as “stillness” and “motion” coincide with one another, along with beings
that are able to “fly” next to beings that are able to “swim”. In the interlude of these opposing concepts, Baraka extends the greatest message of his poem, these opposites, abstractions rather, render the ability in “exchanging/in/formation (19-21).” The play on words of “information” and “in formation” works to highlight how abstraction works to create meaning in form, in it’s complete and finished form as poetry. Alone, they are merely words, ideas, concepts, but together, these contradictions and ironies are “beautiful (25)” working to create a sense of “choice” and “style”. Simply, these freedoms that come in poetry of style and choice are not to be confused as mere “categories (26).” Categories attempt to define and subject a thing, an idea, into a one dimensional projection. By Baraka, suggestively adding “if you go/ for that (27-28)” suggests the idea of ‘categories’ as a form of imprisonment for poetry. Poetry is not to be defined, to be defined is to have a definition. And by having a definition, an idea, a concept, a being, it is ultimately predictable and bounded by the limits of that definition. Hence, abstraction free and liberated from the constraints of logic and works in poetry to achieve art.