Amiri Baraka's Eulogy for Louis Reyes Rivera / "Take it Easy ... See ya later ... Don't Take No Wooden Negroes"
Info: "On November 27, 2011 Students for a Free CUNY organized an event at the AME Church in Harlem. There, Louis Reyes Rivera shared his wisdom with a new generation of student activists in what was to be one of his last public speeches. His words are intercut with excerpts from the November 17, 2011 student protest at Union Square, organized as part of the Occupy Wall Street Day of Action."
Eulogy for Louis Reyes Rivera
by Amiri Baraka
People are always talking about The Creator, meaning some great abstraction beyond ourselves for whom and to whom we give deference to if we don't want to cop to God. When we were in the organization we use to call our weapons "Gods" so you can understand the relativity of the term. But for all our talk about the Creator, we rarely use that term for those moving among us whom we could concretely use that word to describe. And whose creations are knowable, tangible, though wonderful even if we could stand in a bar and have a beer with them. It is as if our familiarity with humanity downgrades its profundity. Like the only truly heavy stuff is what we don't understand. Like the economy, what's truly valuable is what we don't have.
I'm saying this to wake us up to the value of our own earthly lives, and the great creators that have walked, do walk, among us. But also to help us appreciate the grand livingness of what some of us give to each other. Though the contradiction to this is that then we will understand how much we lose when one of those long time creators disappears. Sometimes we don't even know who they are. What a tragedy, like the fog of ignorance which disconnects our heads from our hearts so that we can wander through the world and not even understand what's going on. Though Louis kept telling us, Who Pays the Cost (1978), This One For You (1983), Scattered Scripture (1996) or that great anthology Bum Rush The Page (2001).
And we are always surrounded by Death. Now Death. Past Death. Death to Come. However we have to face it, it marks us one way or another. It is always much closer than we think and even what we think we see can suddenly disappear. Though there is always light if we know where to look. Our friend, brother, here brought it to us direct and its brightness must help light the rest of our lives. But the news of Louis' passing was freezing and horrible. I read the words and emotionally couldn't understand them. It didn't make sense. It was absurd or confused or a lie or whatever is not true or real. But it was both. But how could it be? Amina and I had just seen Louis and Barbara and hung out all day and ate Cuban food and exchanged observations, experiences, facts, beliefs, maps of consciousness We stood in front of the house and waved, "Take it Easy...See ya later ...Don't Take No Wooden Negroes."
If you know where the light is and it goes out it frightens and pours ice through you. Like somehow you got put out in the cold and the darkness. There is no one I fear losing like the poets. Not just because we do that, but it means there is one less trusted mind and soul in the world. It is a loneliness that jumps us remembering the someone like Louis Reyes Rivera whom we knew to speak the truth. In a world full of lies and surrounded by death and darkness, someone who would bring that wondrous light and truth to us, that we could count on to do that. That we might hear one sentence that would, say, put the Republican maniacs in check or even give righteous criticism to some leader who still don't know how to act. Or simply remark on a truth we needed but had momentarily forgotten, or simply make us hum that hip tune again like we sposed to.
He said in his wonderful essay Inside the River of Poetry "Always there is need for song ...and every human has a poem to write ..." This last thing comes to mind because Louis was a live poet. And unlike we old heads Louis had mastered the art of memorization, which the generations after mine, have accomplished. So he was a spoken word speaker in the sense of textless recitation, although occasionally he would read. Louis also dug the enhancement that music gave to the word. Because poetry is the musicked word at base and the skilled recitation accompanied by or integrating the spoken word with music serves to emphasize both. His great poem “The Bullet Cry or A Place I Never Been” creates the living dimension of Malcolm's murder, beginning with the tumultuous and relentless question, Was You There? That work must be dug by any who claim information about real life.
We have heard Louis read excerpts from his Jazz In Jail, his masterful word music symphony that speaks in multiple layers of metaphor about the music which is our literal as well as our figurative selves, and we must collectively and unceasingly signify and put the whisper to work until that work appears. These grand creators must not be treated like comets to blaze across our consciousness helping us more clearly dig the world, and then disappear. Especially recently we have been losing grand master poets like Louis, Sekou, Pedro, Mikey, Piri, Lorenzo Thomas, Gil Scott.. ..What have we been doing wrong to deserve such spiritual wasting? It's like your head and heart are shrinking.
Louis' death seemed so unreal to me, because I always thought of him (and he was) younger than me. Even though he had the Imam's long grey beard and the staff to go with it, the peripatetic prophet. We got together in the late 70's around the time of his first book, Who Pays The Cost. With a lot of people who will add a deeper cast to any eulogy or obituary, some long gone like his man Zizwe Ngafua, or the cruelly underknown Safiya Henderson, or the writers like Arthur Flowers and his De Mojo Blues, together with people like my wife, Amina Baraka, poets, Tom Mitchelson, Brenda Connor Bey, Layding Kaliba, Rashidah Ismaili, Gary Johnston and his Blind Beggars Press, Wanjiku Reynolds, Malkia Mbuzi, Mervyn Taylor, Akua Lezli Hope, loud ass Baron Ashanti.
And in the spirit of John Oliver Killens, Barbara's father, Louis' father in Law, and the Harlem Writer's Guild which reflected his long historied nurturing of Black writers, we together with some others, put together for a brief storied moment a Black Writers' Union that met in Brooklyn and seemed similar, one of these writers commented recently, to the National Writers Union which it preceded. That's the way that do, was my answer. Even so, Louis was chair of the New York chapter of Local 1981 of the National Writers Union since 2004 and active in it from its inception. And he functioned like a real union rep. It was not just a title. If you wanted to know something about the formal attempt to make these Publishing Corpses respect writers' rights, Louis wd publish his work in the union regularly. In this effort were we all, certainly Louis and I and the rest of us brought closer.
I remember Louis talking about his effort helping John Killens to put together his grand study of Pushkin, Great Black Russian. Lest we forget that until Pushkin made Russian a language that carried literature, the Russians wrote in French. Louis was one of the people most associated with self-publishing. Too many young people loiter unknown in the literary world because they think there is something negative about self-publishing. Thus this attitude keeps us subservient to the corpses. With Shamal press Louis championed the small press and self -publishing efforts that young poets should welcome.
Louis was always at heart the activist and this is why I always felt close to him. That the word was to spread the truth and the expression of that word was an act of liberation. It was the spirit of the Black Arts Movement, a more activist oriented reflection of the Harlem Renaissance, which gave us Negritude in Africa and the West Indies, Indigisme in Haiti and Negrissmo in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Spanish speaking territories of the Americas. That we would create an art that was as rooted in our real cultural and historical experience. That we would create an art that would come out of the elitist dens of ambiguity and poet for and with the people. That we would create an art that would help liberate those people! Dig his two anthologies Bum Rush The Page & The Bandana Republic. And you could hear Louis working at it whether in his twice a month workshops, his program on WBAI (until it was cut off by the white knights), his regular gigs and workshops at Sistah's Place or his various academic gigs at Pratt Institute and SUNY Stony Brook. One of the most important of Louis' formal or informal teaching gigs was his insistence on teaching, recognizing and living the Afro- Latin Hinge that characterizes the whole of the Western world. His rocked hat, swinging cane, his various dashikis above which lowered a long constantly stroked beard animated by a determined march to where ever, arriving with "What's Happening" and leaving with "Later," the characteristic Rivera Profile.
Louis gave us the warmth of his feeling, always. We loved him because we knew that whatever he looked like to you, he was a soldier. That's why we miss him so much. And it is the essence of his soldiering that must be passed on. That's what we must urge on artists and scholars, not only cultural workers, but we need our most advanced folks fighting for equal rights and self-determination. To create art, and scholarship that is historically and culturally authentic, that is public and for the people, that is revolutionary. This is the paradigm that Louis Reyes Rivera's life and work presented. Unity with our people and struggle against our enemies. Anyone who really knew Louis would tell you that. They would know that he was a soldier. And we all should know that here, at this precipice looking down into the jaws of corporate dictatorship the new American Fascism.
That we need all the revolutionary cultural workers, all the soldiers we can enlist and develop. Louis Reyes Rivera was that to the bone, to the head of his swinging stick and screaming dashiki. This One For You he said, he meant us, all of us, all the time. Like Sekou Toure said, "Victory To Those Who Struggle." Louis believed that. He told me so. Unidad & Lucha Companero. Hasta la Vista. Hasta Manana. Venceremos! Later!" (source)
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