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This review is taken from PN Review 218, Volume 40 Number 6, July - August 2014.

Taking Sides Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn: The Collected Letters, ed. Claudia Moreno Pisano (University of New Mexico Press, 2013) $59.95
edward dorn and leroy lucas, The Shoshoneans: The People of the Basin-Plateau, ed. Matthew Hofer (University of New Mexico Press, 2013) $34.95

‘Sides are a bigassed drag,’ Edward Dorn wrote to Amiri Baraka in late 1961, ‘the biggest small-talk of all, like which one are you on?’ A drag it might have been, but the issue of what it means to take a side is a decisive one that shapes not just the local contours of Dorn and Baraka’s correspondence, but the period in American history to which it bears unique and invaluable witness. The letters collected here run from 1959 – when Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) wrote to Dorn soliciting material for his magazine, Yugen – to 1965, when Dorn moved to England and the assassination of Malcolm X precipitated Baraka’s immersion in the Black Power movement. The respective situations of Baraka and Dorn would appear to be poles apart: Baraka was at the epicentre of the Greenwich Village and avant-garde scenes whereas Dorn was living in the comparative seclusion of Pocatello, Idaho. But the mails kept Dorn plugged into the vital cultural happenings, and not just in America: both Dorn’s and Baraka’s letters make frequent references to happenings on the other side of the pond, naming, among others, Anselm Hollo, J.H. Prynne and Tom Raworth.

The friendship that emerges in these letters follows the pattern of the exchange itself. Defined by its intensity, it is in turns trusting and antagonistic: reading it through in its entirety, we hear two major poets at the germinal moment of their careers hammering out the ideas that define their art. These letters make clear that the ...

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