I never met him, but when I took an undergraduate course in modern American poetry, his work was on the syllabus. It was without question the worst stuff we read that term; in fact it was the worst stuff in that whole edition of the Norton Anthology of Modern American Poetry. I was so astonished at the sheer awfulness of his poems, in fact, that I typed one of them up, banged out three others of the same ilk off the top of my head, and passed them around to a few of my dorm friends, asking if they could tell which three I’d made up and which one I’d copied out of the Norton. None of them could. But the joke, it turned out, was on me. What I later learned was that Baraka wasn’t going for literary excellence: as he explained in a 1980 interview, his poems weren’t intended mainly to be read by other people in books; he created them so he’d have texts to declaim at public readings. (Even then, appparently, he was making a good deal of money giving public readings – much of that money, one presumes, drawn from university treasuries.)
Bruce Bawer in Frontpage Mag; read on…
And Sohrab Amari in The Weekly Standard:
His rise to prominence is a lesson in the ways radical political commitment can disfigure talent—and mask its absence. And his many awards and honors—including prizes from the PEN/Faulkner, Guggenheim, and Rockefeller foundations—are a reminder of the damage wrought by a literary establishment willing to lower standards to accommodate fashion and ideology.
And Tom Clough on Baraka’s stint as Poet Laureate of New Jersey (“Poet Laureate of Hate”):
Amiri Baraka has been a vocal exponent of what he calls “Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong thought” since the 1970s. In October 2001 he wrote a 226-line poem titled Somebody Blew Up America, which was his response to the flying fuel-bomb mass murders of September 11th, 2001. On Saturday September 21, 2002 he read this poem before an audience at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, New Jersey. Folks in the audience began booing the poet laureate. To this day it isn’t clear whether people were offended by the poem’s message or by its plodding lock-step monotonous drum-beat construction. It had all the poetic qualities of a 1950s Soviet “boy-meets-tractor” propaganda film.
Just goes to show what you can get away with it you fit the Radical Chic agenda.