NYT Lovingly Profiles Radical Poet Amiri Baraka, Who Suggested Israel Had Prior Warning of 9-11

James Barron's "Newark Journal" Thursday New York profile of left-wing poet Amiri Baraka's radical reminisces, "A Poet Looks Back On a Bloody Week in 1967." The story's text box suggested Baraka's radical reading of the riot as a "rebellion" was the correct one: "Recalling a riot, or perhaps a rebellion, that left 26 dead and 1,000 injured."

Barron waited until paragraph 14 to note his paranoid anti-Semitic poem "Someone Blew Up America" which alleged that Israel had known about the Sept. 11 attacks in advance and had warned its citizens not to go the World Trade Center that day. (In a September 30, 2009 article, Barron wasn't nearly as kind to a Dutch cartoonist targeted for killing for drawing a cartoon of Mohammad that offended radical Muslims.)

The man in the tan shirt led the way to a squarish room in his house and sat down at a round table. Quietly, matter-of-factly, he talked about what happened in the summer of 1967.

“Rebellion, I call it,” said the man, the poet Amiri Baraka, as he recalled the riots in Newark, which lasted nearly a week and left 26 people dead and more than 1,000 injured, among them Mr. Baraka himself.

Four and a half decades have passed, enough time for historians and urban policy experts to write millions of words about Newark’s industrial decline after World War II and the riots that became a symbol of urban unrest and that continue to cast a shadow over the city.

Mr. Baraka, who became a celebrity in the decades after the riots, is one of the featured names at a four-day poetry festival in Newark starting on Thursday that organizers claim is the largest such festival in North America. The discussion in his house the other day offered a preview, and an almost moment-by-moment look back at the bloody upheaval. In the end, 889 stores had been damaged or looted, officials said.

Barron raised the subject of Baraka's paranoid poem, but quickly got off it, without even calling the poem controversial and letting Baraka make it into a joke.

Mr. Baraka has been a regular at the poetry festival, which has been held every other year since 1986 and is formally called the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. Mr. Baraka is scheduled to read poems at the festival; he is also scheduled to appear on Saturday with Clement A. Price, a history professor at Rutgers University, in a discussion of the effect of the riots and other 1960s turbulence on Mr. Baraka’s work.

It was an appearance at the Dodge festival in 2002 that cost Mr. Baraka his position as New Jersey’s poet laureate. He read from his post-Sept. 11 poem “Someone Blew Up America,” in which he suggested that Israel had known about the Sept. 11 attacks in advance and that it had warned 4,000 Israeli citizens not to go to work at the World Trade Center that day. Within days, Gov. James E. McGreevey demanded that he resign as poet laureate. He refused, but the State Legislature eventually abolished the position.

“Poetry is underrated,” he said, “so when they got rid of the poet laureate thing, I wrote a letter saying, ‘This is progress. In the old days, they could lock me up. Now they just take away my title.’ ”

But the conversation soon returned to Newark, then and now.