Poet Laureate Post in N.J. May Be Cut

From Associated Press

The state Senate voted Thursday to eliminate the poet laureate position after the current title holder refused to resign for writing a poem implying Israel had advance knowledge of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The measure still must pass the Assembly. Current rules say the title cannot be rescinded and the governor and Legislature cannot fire Amiri Baraka, poet laureate since July.

Baraka drew criticism after reading his poem "Somebody Blew Up America" at a festival last summer. He denies he is anti-Semitic, and he and his defenders have characterized the campaign to remove him as a threat to artistic freedom.

Several senators spoke against the bill Thursday during several hours of passionate debate.

Sen. Sharpe James said that those who chose Baraka for the post, which carries a $10,000 annual stipend, "knew of his controversial roles. They knew of his controversial writing. They knew Baraka. They wanted Baraka."

But state Sen. Richard Codey argued that holding a state position entails certain responsibilities.

The measure passed 21 to 0, with 19 senators not voting.

Baraka, 68, in a telephone interview called supporters of the measure "illiterate and racist," adding, "I would bet that most of them have not read that poem, and they're simply kowtowing to the kind of narrow, reactionary views" of the Anti-Defamation League.

Baraka, a poet and playwright who has taught at Columbia and Yale universities, has said his poem was intended only to criticize Israel's policy toward Palestinians.

The lines singled out by critics read: "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed/Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day?/Why did Sharon stay away?"

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