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Richard Wilbur's “Mind" and Amiri Baraka’s "Somebody Blew Up America"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

"Mind" by Richard Wilbur is an interesting if mediocre poem. Read on for a commentary.

"Mind" by Richard Wilbur is an interesting if mediocre poem. Read on for a commentary.

Introduction and Text of "Mind"

The speaker employs the poetic device known as "simile" to liken the human mind to a bat. Bizarrely like a bat flying through a cave, the mind, the speaker contends, is merely searching the endless possibilities that exist in the unknown.

This poem offers the result of what I call "loose musing" but with a slightly better outcome than most egregious examples of that activity. All poets "muse" and "loose muse" with hopes of ending up with something worthwhile to produce.

This poem makes it about halfway there. It remains mediocre but worth considering nonetheless.

A thorough study of the rime-scheme might yield an interesting discourse but likely no one has found the piece fascinating enough to delve into it with that much intensity.

Bad poems deserve attention too if just for the sake of elevating good ones. While this one is not terrible, it also fails to rise above mediocre, bland, and indeterminately flaccid.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Mind

Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

It has no need to falter or explore;
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.

And has this simile a like perfection?
The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest of intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.

Reading of "Mind"

Commentary on Wilbur's "Mind"

Richard Wilbur's poem, "Mind," compares the human mind to a bat flying through a cave.

First Quatrain: Playing at Thinking

Mind in its purest play is like some bat
That beats about in caverns all alone,
Contriving by a kind of senseless wit
Not to conclude against a wall of stone.

Employing the poetic device known as simile, the speaker in Richard Wilbur's poem, "Mind," compares the human mind to a bat: "Mind in its purest play is like some bat."

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But the speaker is not referring to ordinary mind; he is comparing the mind in its purest play, that is, when it is relaxed and simply playing at thinking. He is likely influenced by his poet mind when it is musing about fashioning a poem.

Although the scientific mind could also be likened to the bat in certain stages of thinking, especially the early cogitations that are also musing on possibilities, this speaker is more likely focused on the artist's mind.

This mind/bat is making its way through the dark confines of the cavern using its intuitive powers not to end abruptly: for the mind, such an end would mean simply having gathered a bunch of useless thoughts that lead nowhere, but for the bat, such an end would be his physical body slathered up against the wall of the cave.

Second Quatrain: Rattling Around in the Brain Cage

It has no need to falter or explore;
Darkly it knows what obstacles are there,
And so may weave and flitter, dip and soar
In perfect courses through the blackest air.

The mind rattling around in the cage of the brain possessing no eye to detect pathways is also like the bat that cannot see through the darkness in the cave through which it flies.

Yet the mind moves easily through its space, and the bat flies through the cavern simply by the use of sound and air quality. Thus the mind because it is at purest play is not motivated by necessity; "it has no need to falter or explore."

The mind is merely searching the endless possibilities that exist in the unknown. Like the bat, it knows without being able to see logical pathways that obstacles are there. So the mind like the bat seems to "weave and flitter, dip and soar," and they both are able to navigate the sheer darkness in "perfect courses through the blackest air."

Third Quatrain: Poetic Aptness

And has this simile a like perfection?
The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest of intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.

The speaker then turns from the bat/mind comparison to the aptness of his poetic comparison; he asks, "has this simile a like perfection?" Can he really succeed in fashioning a poetic simile that makes the bald claim, "The mind is like a bat." He decides in his simile's favor and says, "Precisely."

The simile works as far as it goes. But there is a major difference: if the mind, flying through its blackest air happens to make a graceful error, the result can be positive. He may, in fact, conclude with unheard of possibilities with the very happiest intellection.

Scientific thought has pushed forward through error that turned out to lead to truth. Artistic truth may result from what at first seems to be little more than a graceful error.

In both cases, the mind has been capable of something useful, whereas the bat's error would not be useful but could possibly be the bat's demise, were it to conclude with the bat smashing its body against a wall of stone.

Amiri Baraka’s "Somebody Blew Up America"

That the late poetaster, LeRoi Jones, a.k.a. Amiri Baraka, lost his New Jersey poet laureateship because of the heinous statements he made in "Somebody Blew Up America" shines as a stellar example of "chickens coming home to roost."

Introduction and Text of "Somebody Blew Up America"

The ignominious scribblings of the late Amiri Baraka, formerly known as LeRoi Jones, exemplify everything that is wrong with contemporary poetry, from identity politics to ahistorical nonsense to outright fabrication.

Jones-Baraka lost his New Jersey poet laureateship after the Anti-Defamation League denounced his nonsensical and anti-Semitic screed, "Somebody Blew Up America."

A recent iteration of that sentiment came from anti-Semitic congressman Ilhan Omar’s, "some people did something," a whitewash of the 9/11 terror attack that killed nearly 3000 people with weaponized passenger airplanes, the very same subject of Poetaster Jones-Baraka's screed.

Omar blithely flung forth that dismissal, demonstrating her ignorance of historical fact, as she screeched,

CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.

Actually, nothing about that statement is accurate. CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) was founded in 1994, not after September 11, 2001. With "Some people did something," she is referring to those four airplanes turned into weapons of mass destruction taking out nearly 3000 Americans.

And Americans have made every effort to make sure innocent Muslims are not tarred with the same Islamist-Extremist-Terrorist brush.

Overrated Voice of Nonsense

The long-time, overrated voice of LeRoi Jones, aka Amiri Baraka, has sullied the poetry world with many offensive diatribes, but "Somebody Blew Up America" will remain his crowning piece of irrationality; it reads like a list of incoherent notes jotted down briefly without thought of making any kind of sense of them.

The speaker fulminates in a grammatically and historically challenged voice that reveals a low level of literacy and lack of common sense. While the lack of grammatical acumen is forgivable and may be argued that it is appropriate for the purpose of this discourse, nothing than explain away the many nonsensical, ahistorical inaccuracies.

Just because one race wishes to foist all blame for all the world’s ills on another race does not make that foisting accurate.

Somebody Blew Up America

They say its some terrorist, some barbaric Arab in Afghanistan
It wasn't our American terrorists
It wasn't the Klan or the skinheads
Or the them that blows up nigger churches
Or reincarnates us on Death Row
It wasn't Trent Lott
Or David Duke or Giuliani
Or Schundler, Helms retiring

It wasn't the gonorrhea in costume
The white sheet diseases that have murdered black people
Terrorized reason and sanity
Most of humanity, as they pleases

They say (who say?)
Who do the saying
Who is them paying
Who tell the lies
Who in disguise
Who had the slaves
Who got the bucks out the Bucks

Who got fat from plantations
Who genocided Indians
Tried to waste the Black nation

Who live on Wall Street, the first plantation?
Who cut your nuts off
Who rape your ma
Who lynched your pa

Who got the tar, who got the feathers
Who had the match, who set the fires
Who killed and hired
Who say they God, and still be the Devil

Who the biggest only
Who the most goodest
Who do Jesus resemble

Who created everything
Who the smartest
Who the greatest
Who the richest
Who say you ugly and they the goodlookinest

Who define art
Who define science

Who made the bombs
Who made the guns

Who bought the slaves, who sold them

Who called you them names
Who say Dahmer wasn't insane

Who? Who? Who?

Who stole Puerto Rico
Who stole the Indies, the Philippines, Manhattan
Australia & The Hebrides
Who forced opium on the Chinese

Who own them buildings
Who got the money
Who think you funny
Who locked you up
Who own the papers

Who owned the slave ship

Who run the army

Who the fake president
Who the ruler
Who the banker

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the mine
Who twist your mind
Who got bread
Who need peace
Who you think need war

Who own the oil
Who do no toil
Who own the soil
Who is not a nigger
Who is so great ain't nobody bigger

Who own this city

Who own the air
Who own the water

Who own your crib
Who rob and steal and cheat and murder
and make lies the truth
Who call you uncouth

Who live in the biggest house
Who do the biggest crime
Who go on vacation anytime

Who killed the most niggers
Who killed the most Jews
Who killed the most Italians
Who killed the most Irish
Who killed the most Africans
Who killed the most Japanese
Who killed the most Latinos

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the ocean
Who own the airplanes
Who own the malls
Who own television
Who own radio

Who own what ain't even known to be owned
Who own the owners that ain't the real owners

Who own the suburbs
Who suck the cities
Who make the laws

Who made Bush president
Who believe the confederate flag need to be flying
Who talk about democracy and be lying

Who the Beast in Revelations
Who 666
Who know who decide
Jesus get crucified

Who the Devil on the real side
Who got rich from Armenian genocide

Who the biggest terrorist
Who change the bible
Who killed the most people
Who do the most evil
Who don't worry about survival

Who have the colonies
Who stole the most land
Who rule the world
Who say they good but only do evil
Who the biggest executioner

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the oil
Who want more oil
Who told you what you think that later you find out a lie

Who? Who? Who?

Who found Bin Laden, maybe they Satan
Who pay the CIA,
Who knew the bomb was gonna blow
Who know why the terrorists
Learned to fly in Florida, San Diego

Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion
And cracking they sides at the notion

Who need fossil fuel when the sun ain't goin' nowhere

Who make the credit cards
Who get the biggest tax cut
Who walked out of the Conference
Against Racism
Who killed Malcolm, Kennedy & his Brother
Who killed Dr King, Who would want such a thing?
Are they linked to the murder of Lincoln?

Who invaded Grenada
Who made money from apartheid
Who keep the Irish a colony
Who overthrow Chile and Nicaragua later

Who killed David Sibeko, Chris Hani,
the same ones who killed Biko, Cabral,
Neruda, Allende, Che Guevara, Sandino,

Who killed Kabila, the ones who wasted Lumumba, Mondlane,
Betty Shabazz, Princess Di, Who live on Wall Street, the first plantation?
Who cut your nuts off
Who rape your ma
Who lynched your pa

Who got the tar, who got the feathers
Who had the match, who set the fires
Who killed and hired
Who say they God, and still be the Devil

Who the biggest only
Who the most goodest
Who do Jesus resemble

Who created everything
Who the smartest
Who the greatest
Who the richest
Who say you ugly and they the goodlookinest

Who define art
Who define science

Who made the bombs
Who made the guns

Who bought the slaves, who sold them

Who called you them names
Who say Dahmer wasn't insane

Who? Who? Who?

Who stole Puerto Rico
Who stole the Indies, the Philippines, Manhattan
Australia & The Hebrides
Who forced opium on the Chinese

Who own them buildings
Who got the money
Who think you funny
Who locked you up
Who own the papers

Who owned the slave ship

Who run the army

Who the fake president
Who the ruler
Who the banker

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the mine
Who twist your mind
Who got bread
Who need peace
Who you think need war

Who own the oil
Who do no toil
Who own the soil
Who is not a nigger
Who is so great ain't nobody bigger

Who own this city

Who own the air
Who own the water

Who own your crib
Who rob and steal and cheat and murder
and make lies the truth
Who call you uncouth

Who live in the biggest house
Who do the biggest crime
Who go on vacation anytime

Who killed the most niggers
Who killed the most Jews
Who killed the most Italians
Who killed the most Irish
Who killed the most Africans
Who killed the most Japanese
Who killed the most Latinos

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the ocean
Who own the airplanes
Who own the malls
Who own television
Who own radio

Who own what ain't even known to be owned
Who own the owners that ain't the real owners

Who own the suburbs
Who suck the cities
Who make the laws

Who made Bush president
Who believe the confederate flag need to be flying
Who talk about democracy and be lying

Who the Beast in Revelations
Who 666
Who know who decide
Jesus get crucified

Who the Devil on the real side
Who got rich from Armenian genocide

Who the biggest terrorist
Who change the bible
Who killed the most people
Who do the most evil
Who don't worry about survival

Who have the colonies
Who stole the most land
Who rule the world
Who say they good but only do evil
Who the biggest executioner

Who? Who? Who?

Who own the oil
Who want more oil
Who told you what you think that later you find out a lie

Who? Who? Who?

Who found Bin Laden, maybe they Satan
Who pay the CIA,
Who knew the bomb was gonna blow
Who know why the terrorists
Learned to fly in Florida, San Diego

Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion
And cracking they sides at the notion

Who need fossil fuel when the sun ain't goin' nowhere

Who make the credit cards
Who get the biggest tax cut
Who walked out of the Conference
Against Racism
Who killed Malcolm, Kennedy & his Brother
Who killed Dr King, Who would want such a thing?
Are they linked to the murder of Lincoln?

Who invaded Grenada
Who made money from apartheid
Who keep the Irish a colony
Who overthrow Chile and Nicaragua later

Who killed David Sibeko, Chris Hani,
the same ones who killed Biko, Cabral,
Neruda, Allende, Che Guevara, Sandino,

Who killed Kabila, the ones who wasted Lumumba, Mondlane,
Betty Shabazz, Die, Princess Di, Ralph Featherstone,
Little Bobby

Who locked up Mandela, Dhoruba, Geronimo,
Assata, Mumia, Garvey, Dashiell Hammett, Alphaeus Hutton

Who killed Huey Newton, Fred Hampton,
Medgar Evers, Mikey Smith, Walter Rodney,
Was it the ones who tried to poison Fidel
Who tried to keep the Vietnamese Oppressed

Who put a price on Lenin's head

Who put the Jews in ovens,
and who helped them do it
Who said "America First"
and ok'd the yellow stars

Who killed Rosa Luxembourg, Liebneckt
Who murdered the Rosenbergs
And all the good people iced,
tortured, assassinated, vanished

Who got rich from Algeria, Libya, Haiti,
Iran, Iraq, Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine,

Who cut off peoples hands in the Congo
Who invented Aids
Who put the germs
In the Indians' blankets
Who thought up "The Trail of Tears"

Who blew up the Maine
& started the Spanish American War
Who got Sharon back in Power
Who backed Batista, Hitler, Bilbo,
Chiang kai Chek

Who decided Affirmative Action had to go
Reconstruction, The New Deal,
The New Frontier, The Great Society,

Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for
Who doo doo come out the Colon's mouth
Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza
Who pay Connelly to be a wooden negro
Who give Genius Awards to Homo Locus
Subsidere

Who overthrew Nkrumah, Bishop,
Who poison Robeson,
who try to put DuBois in Jail
Who frame Rap Jamil al Amin, Who frame the Rosenbergs,
Garvey,
The Scottsboro Boys,
The Hollywood Ten

Who set the Reichstag Fire

Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?

Who? Who? Who?

Explosion of Owl the newspaper say
The devil face cd be seen

Who make money from war
Who make dough from fear and lies
Who want the world like it is
Who want the world to be ruled by imperialism and national
oppression and terror violence, and hunger and poverty.

Who is the ruler of Hell?
Who is the most powerful

Who you know ever
Seen God?

But everybody seen
The Devil

Like an Owl exploding
In your life in your brain in your self
Like an Owl who know the devil
All night, all day if you listen, Like an Owl
Exploding in fire. We hear the questions rise
In terrible flame like the whistle of a crazy dog

Like the acid vomit of the fire of Hell
Who and Who and WHO who who
Whoooo and Whooooooooooooooooooooo!, Ralph Featherstone,
Little Bobby

Who locked up Mandela, Dhoruba, Geronimo,
Assata, Mumia, Garvey, Dashiell Hammett, Alphaeus Hutton

Who killed Huey Newton, Fred Hampton,
Medgar Evers, Mikey Smith, Walter Rodney,
Was it the ones who tried to poison Fidel
Who tried to keep the Vietnamese Oppressed

Who put a price on Lenin's head

Who put the Jews in ovens,
and who helped them do it
Who said "America First"
and ok'd the yellow stars

Who killed Rosa Luxembourg, Liebneckt
Who murdered the Rosenbergs
And all the good people iced,
tortured, assassinated, vanished

Who got rich from Algeria, Libya, Haiti,
Iran, Iraq, Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon,
Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine,

Who cut off peoples hands in the Congo
Who invented Aids
Who put the germs
In the Indians' blankets
Who thought up "The Trail of Tears"

Who blew up the Maine
& started the Spanish American War
Who got Sharon back in Power
Who backed Batista, Hitler, Bilbo,
Chiang kai Chek

Who decided Affirmative Action had to go
Reconstruction, The New Deal,
The New Frontier, The Great Society,

Who do Tom Ass Clarence Work for
Who doo doo come out the Colon's mouth
Who know what kind of Skeeza is a Condoleeza
Who pay Connelly to be a wooden negro
Who give Genius Awards to Homo Locus
Subsidere

Who overthrew Nkrumah, Bishop,
Who poison Robeson,
who try to put DuBois in Jail
Who frame Rap Jamil al Amin, Who frame the Rosenbergs,
Garvey,
The Scottsboro Boys,
The Hollywood Ten

Who set the Reichstag Fire

Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?

Who? Who? Who?

Explosion of Owl the newspaper say
The devil face cd be seen

Who make money from war
Who make dough from fear and lies
Who want the world like it is
Who want the world to be ruled by imperialism and national
oppression and terror violence, and hunger and poverty.

Who is the ruler of Hell?
Who is the most powerful

Who you know ever
Seen God?

But everybody seen
The Devil

Like an Owl exploding
In your life in your brain in your self
Like an Owl who know the devil
All night, all day if you listen, Like an Owl
Exploding in fire. We hear the questions rise
In terrible flame like the whistle of a crazy dog

Like the acid vomit of the fire of Hell
Who and Who and WHO who who
Whoooo and Whooooooooooooooooooooo!

Baraka reading his “Somebody Blew Up America”

Commentary on Amiri Baraka’s “"Somebody Blew Up America”

The late Amiri Baraka lost his New Jersey poet laureateship after the Anti-Defamation League denounced his nonsensical and anti-Semitic screed, "Somebody Blew Up America."

Fake-News Title

The title, "Somebody Blew Up America," presents two erroneous assertions. The screed supposedly reacts to the events of September 11, 2001, when nineteen Middle Eastern Islamists boarded four passenger airplanes, turning those planes into weapons of war.

Of course, as is well documented, most people know that those Islamists did not succeed in blowing up America.

They took out two World Trade Center buildings in New York City and part of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., while the fourth airplane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

The worst they did was killing almost 3000 Americans in their despicable act. So the reader can take the "blew up America" as exaggeration but nothing more.

However, the claim that, "Somebody" committed those heinous acts is utterly disingenuous. Everybody knows who did it.

By implying that he does not know who "blew up America," the speaker places himself with the conspiracy theorists, the truthers who claim that it was not "terrorists" who commandeered those planes, but perhaps the U. S. government?

"American terrorists"

The poem mockingly cries, "It wasn't our American terrorists / It wasn't the Klan or the Skin heads," with the innuendo that it probably was the Klan or the Skin heads and not the Islamists who actually committed the act. (Amiri Baraka is the former LeRoi Jones, who changed his name in 1968 after deciding to identify as a Muslim.)

The speaker demonstrates a lack of erudition even in education by such lines as "or reincarnates us on Death Row." The use of "reincarnates" in such as way shows that the speaker is clueless regarding the meaning of the word.

Who? Who? Who?

By the third section of the tirade, the speaker has launched into a repetition of questions about who did what, with the implication that the white man did all these things to the black man: "Who do the saying / Who is them paying / Who tell the lies / Who in disguise / Who had the slaves?"

This monotonous form continues for the rest of the poem (226 lines) until the speaker gets the clever idea that he sounds like an owl, that is, "Like an Owl exploding."

Anti-Semitism

Everyone agrees that this "poet" and all poets have every right to entertain and bellow about any thoughts and beliefs that they choose. Amiri Baraka has every right to complain about slavery and ignore the fact that a bloody war was fought in this country to end slavery, if he chooses.

However, as William Davidson and Shai Goldstein asserted in their letter to New Jersey Governor James McGreevey,

It may be that as a poet, Mr. Baraka may say what he chooses, no matter how ugly, irresponsible or deceptive. However, we don't believe that the residents of New Jersey, nor their representatives should have such venom spewed in their name.

Baraka has his speaker spout the following lines that the Anti-Defamation League found to be anti-Semitic: "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed / Who told 4000 Israeli / workers at the Twin Towers / To stay home that day / Why did Sharon stay away?"

Addressing the poetaster's obnoxious claims, the Anti-Defamation League writes in their source that debunks a number of myths involving Judaism:

. . . then poet laureate from New Jersey, Amiri Baraka’s poem, a lengthy diatribe about September 11, repeats the conspiracy about Jews and Israel having foreknowledge of the attacks and the false rumor that 4,000 Israelis did not show up for work at the World Trade Center.

The governor agreed with the league and requested that Baraka resign his poet laureateship. When Baraka refused, the governor, working throught the state legislature, encourages the drafting of a statute that eliminated the position.

Thus, the poetaster, Amiri Baraka, is responsible for New Jersey losing a valuable position meant to allow voices of poetry to be heard.

Sources for Commentary on Amiri Baraka's "Somebody Blew Up America"

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: What are two things being compared in the poem "Mind" by Richard Wilbur?

Answer: The human mind and a bat are compared in Wilbur's "Mind."

Question: Please explain how this poem relates to "loose musing"?

Answer: This poem offers a slightly better outcome than many egregious examples of "loose musing." All practicing poets "muse" and "loose muse" with hopes of ending up with something worthwhile to produce. This poem makes it about half-way there. It remains mediocre but worth considering nonetheless.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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