Literary Essay Sample: The Effect of Islam on the Poetic Style of Amiri Baraka

Published: 2022-03-11
Literary Essay Sample: The Effect of Islam on the Poetic Style of Amiri Baraka
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Poem Literature Islam
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1174 words
10 min read

Amiri Baraka, born as LeRoi Jones, was a reknowned writer of poems and fiction. His work revolved around black writing and culture, black liberation as well as white racism. Baraka's writing can be divided into two phases; the Beat phase and the Islamic phase. The Beat phase is the period before Baraka converted to Islam, while the Islamic phase is the period after his conversion. During the Beat phase, Baraka worked closely with a group of other poets which had come to be known as the Beat generation. The group had a common interest in changing consciousness and defying conventional writing. The use of meter, rhyme, and rhythm in Amiri's poetry was rare during the Beat phase but this changed during the Islamic phase. The change could only mean that Islam affected the poetic style of Amiri Baraka. The analysis will focus on the difference in Amiri's writing in line with meter, rhyme, and rhythm between these two phases.

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The Beat Phase

Meter, rhyme, and rhythm are some of the styles used in the writing of poems to give them some poetic sound and balance (Obermeier and Christian, 2013, p. 10). As mentioned above, the Beat phase contained an insignificant use of these three poetic styles for Amiri. According to F.C Stamps, Amiri was of the opinion that a poet should allow a poem to take any form regardless of formal traditions of rhymes and rhythm. Amiri argued that the poems he writes emanate from the rhythm in his heart, and the words in his mind that wanted to be written. A good example of a poem that lacks in the styles mentioned above is "A Toast" which was written in the mid-60s. The poem is one long paragraph of eleven lines. The lack of these styles affects the balance of the poem since it becomes difficult for the reader to flow with the poem and have the poetic experience created by the inclusion of these styles.

Another ideal illustration is in a poem titled, "A Poem for Willie Best." The poem is a very long one but hardly has the use of meters, rhyme, or rhythm. Although the poem has instances where these styles are applied, their application is minute considering the length of the poem. The only style that has been used out of the three mentioned is the rhythm in a few instances. One of these instances is in the first stanza, the first, second, and third line. The poet says, "1. The face sings, alone 2. At the top 3. Of the body. All...

Meter is also used on some occasions such as in stanza one line sixteen where the poet writes; alive, and huddled in a door, which falls under the iambic meter. Rhyme is hardly used in Amiri's work, and when used, it is to a small extent.

The Islamic Phase

Amiri Baraka converted to Islam in the year 1968. The conversion brought several significant changes into his life, with no exception to his writing style in poems. From a writing style that defied the use of meter rhyme and rhythm, Amiri's poems in this phase incorporated the use of the mentioned styles to a significant degree. For instance, the poem "Incident" of 1969 shows some use of meters as one of the writing styles used. An example is the use of iambic meter used in the second stanza. Iambic meter usually has unaccented first syllable and accented second syllable. The second line of the second stanza in Incident; "after the fall, the speeding bullet, tore his face" is a good illustration of iambic meter. The first syllable, "after the fall" is unaccented while the second syllable, "the speeding bullet" is accented on the word speeding.

Another poem in which Amiri has used meters is in the 2003 poem "Somebody Blew up America." Here he makes the use of anapest meter in which the first two syllables are unaccented, but the one that follows is accented. This can be seen when the poet says "Who invented Aids Who put the germs" (Baraka, 2001). Dactyl meter is evident in the line "Who want the world to be ruled by imperialism and national oppression and terror." Dactyl meter has the first syllable accented but the second and the third are unaccented. The first syllable in this line is "Who want the world to be ruled" and is accented. The second syllable is "by imperialism," the third is "and national oppression," and the fourth is "and terror," all of which are unaccented. The use of these various types of meters is a development to the writing style of Amiri which is a pointer to the changes he adopted in his writing after his conversion to Islam. The changes prove that Islam had an impact on his writing.

Rhythm is another writing skill that Amiri adopted to a larger extent during the Islam phase in comparison with its use in the Beat phase. For instance, in the poem "Somebody Blew up America," Amiri has employed the use of rhythm. This is evident in the second stanza lines one, two, three, and four. He says, "1. They say it's some terrorist, some 2. Barbaric 3. A Rab, in 4. Afghanistan. When one is reading through this stanza, there is the rhythm that is created through the construction of the words and the way they flow. Additionally, the way the syllables are created which gives a rhythmic pronunciation adds to the point. In the poem "Incident," rhythm can be traced in the first stanza line three when the poet says, "...down, shot, dying, dead, to full halt." There is a rhythm created by the series of those words, as well as a creation of a vivid image in the reader's mind about the succession of activities being described in the poem.

The use of rhyme is also evident. Although it is not widely used, the extent to which it is applied is significant in comparison with the Beat phase. For instance, in Somebody Blew up America, there is the use of rhyme in stanza number twenty lines one, two, three; and lines four and five. The rhyming words in the first three lines are oil, toil, soil; while in the fourth and fifth lines are nigger and bigger.

In summary, there exists a considerable difference in the writing styles of Amiri Baraka for the Beat and the Islamic phases. This is regarding the use of meter, rhyme, and rhythm in his poems. During the Beat phase, which is the period before he converted to Islam, he hardly used the mentioned styles. However, he applied these styles in his writing after his conversion in 1968. The change can only be attributed to Islamic influence which saw him transform.

Works Cited

Baraka, Amiri. Somebody Blew Up America. Oakland layout by Blackdotpress, 2001.

Baraka, Imamu Amiri. Selected Plays and Prose of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones. W. Morrow, 1979.

Kahf, Mohja. "10. Teaching Diaspora Literature: Muslim American Literature as an Emerging Field." PORTABILITY AND EXPORTABILITY (2008): 42.

Obermeier, Christian, et al. "Aesthetic and emotional effects of meter and rhyme in poetry." Frontiers in psychology 4 (2013): 10.

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