In a State Post, Poet Baraka Isn’t Free to Promote Hate
Re “Rhyme and Reason of Free Speech,” by Norah Vincent, Commentary, Oct. 31:
The proposed termination of Amiri Baraka as poet laureate of New Jersey is not a free-speech issue. As a private citizen, Baraka is free to spout whatever venomous lies he chooses. He is not free, however, to promulgate hatred and anti-Semitism as a representative of the state of New Jersey any more than a fundamentalist Christian is free to teach creationism in a public school science class.
In saying that Baraka violated “nothing except the rules of common decency” and therefore should be allowed to retain his position, Vincent is implying that a state should tolerate the expression of any and all lies by state representatives.
New Jersey has every right to defenestrate him (I’d throw him out the window myself!) and let him engage in public art as a private citizen.
I agree with Vincent’s conclusion that Baraka should not be fired as New Jersey’s poet laureate. Other artists’ heads might soon be rolling.
That said, I condemn his preposterous poem, “Somebody Blew Up America” -- not so much for its lies and distortions as for its artistic quality. It is painful to see an honored poet present such bad work. Nevertheless, Baraka should not be punished for being the political and artistic radical he’s been for half a century. He has given poetry an unaccustomed place in the headlines.
Perhaps New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey should not have asked “poet” Baraka for his resignation. The fact remains that the state should not have hired him in the first place. There is no justification for public expenditure to support anything that is not accountable to the public.