(1964) First published in his second collection of poems, The Dead Lecturer, "A Poem for Speculative
Hipsters" is the work of Amiri baraka's (then LeRoi Jones's) bohemian period of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Baraka was one of the contributors to The New American Poetry: 1945-1960 (1960), an influential anthology of postwar experimental poetry (see poetry anthologies). Like many of the poets included in this volume, he rejected the formalist, or "academic," poetics still dominant in the United States at midcentury. Baraka often insisted that the process of making poetry is far more important than poems themselves and that to confine oneself to regular verse forms is to conclude the poetic process before it begins. Poems thus composed, he thought, are dead artifacts instead of vital expressions of actual life. In the essay "How You Sound??" (1960), Baraka proclaims, "There cannot be anything I must fit the poem into." The poetic process, he says, consists of making everything "fit into the poem" (424). "A Poem for Speculative Hipsters," published a few years after this essay appeared, envisions an ideal world in which a poet can create literature in accordance with this principle. The poem recalls an artist's journey to a "forest / of motives," a distant and mysterious sanctuary where art, safe from the impositions of form, can exist as pure process.
Like the journey Baraka imagines, his poem is itself a "speculative" philosophical and aesthetic exercise: an attempt to push thought and art beyond the limits of immediate perception and everyday experience. In a contemporaneous essay, "Hunting Is Not Those Heads on the Wall" (1964), Baraka argues that just as "hunting" cannot be defined in terms of its stuffed and mounted artifacts, "Art-ing" cannot be defined in terms of formally determined, completed works of art (175). Thus the "forest / of motives," devoid of such gross material forms as "owls" and "hunters," appears to be a place where the artist's "motives" or "ideas" exist unto themselves. Baraka contrasts his artist with Connie Chatterley, the heroine of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chat-terley's Lover (1928), who emerges in this poem as a figure of mere sensuality and half-hearted political commitment. Yet if the "forest / of motives" is an escape from the entrapments of the material world, it is also a place of absence: Baraka's artist is "really / nowhere." In the end, then, "A Poem for Speculative Hipsters" perhaps anticipates Baraka's later black nationalist and Marxist writing, in which art is not a matter of speculation but a practical form of cultural and social engagement.
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