Friday, August 03, 2007

Unhinged in Central Park

The City Park Foundation decided to host an evening of 1960’s “Black Power” poets on Thursday night on Central Park’s Summer Stage, so presumably they got what they bargained for. In fact, both readers, Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez were described as Summer Stage veterans. What those in attendance heard (and largely ate up) was a diet of didacticism, profanity, and hatred.

Baraka started the reading with a “short story” collected in Tales of the Out and Gone, describing 1960’s revolutionaries losing their faith in a newly elected African American mayor. It was short on both character and plot development, but long on invective hurled at those Baraka disagrees with, like “Neo-Colonial Negroes and state collaborating Puerto Ricans” and of course the former “cracker mayor.” Baraka also read a poem dedicated to Sonny Carson, a figure too divisive for even the New York City Council to consent to honor. Baraka himself has a long history of comments that have been condemned as anti-Semitic by the ADL (background here), and his “Eulogy” included Carson’s infamous defense against such charges: "I'm anti-white - don't limit my anti's to one group of people."

Sanchez read next starting with a “poem” that was a list of “heroes” including hardcore Marxists like Chairman Mao and Angela Davis, as well as Cynthia McKinney and Charles Barron, a racial demagogue who represents Brooklyn in the City Council. To include Communist dictators and their apologists in her pantheon while also professing a love for jazz that night reveals a shocking historical ignorance on Sanchez’s part. As the newly announced U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Simic can attest, jazz and its listeners were constantly persecuted by the Communists during the Cold War.

We did get insight from Sanchez like Pres. Bush is known for mangling “the King and the Queen’s English.” Sadly, ad hominem attacks like this usually get a good hand in New York these days. As for Sanchez’s own use of language, in the poem “Peace” we heard lines like a “terrorist bomb is the language of the unheard” and about “holding hostage the hearts and penises of the workers.”

Last night “peace” was advocated for Iraq in the form of an immediate troop withdrawal with complete ethical disregard for the consequences, while contradictorily preaching “resistance” and revolution to “smash capitalism” here in America. That so many of my neighbors have no problem hearing such extremist sentiments is disturbing. That the non-profit City Parks Foundation (not a City agency) would sponsor such an extremist, one sided event must mean they endorse the sentiments to some extent. Perhaps the City should start looking elsewhere for programming.