In Memory of Radio

In Memory of Radio Summary

"In Memory of Radio" is a 1961 poem published when Amiri Baraka was still known as LeRoi Jones. It explores popular culture, oral tradition and individual expression, and is characterized by a colloquial, playful, and almost humorous tone. Students who are not familiar with mid-20th-century radio culture might find themselves intimidated by "In Memory of Radio," which is saturated with now-forgotten names and cultural references. The important thing to remember when reading this poem is that it is largely about voice—Baraka calls upon the collective memory of the radio to invoke the idea of American spoken registers and American oral traditions. The poem itself presents readers with fragmented statements that do not conform to a set narrative and are instead meant to invoke a particular mood or feeling.

The poem opens with a separation between the speaker and the audience: it is only the speaker and Jack Kerouac who can recognize the greatness of The Shadow, a fictional crime-fighting detective who can turn invisible. The speaker goes on to suggest that everyone else was probably listening to something much more mainstream and "unattractive," such as WCBS and Kate Smith. Following this, he relates to the sense of loss that comes with retrospection and puts a satirical spin on an age-old question, asking if he should say, "It is better to haved loved and lost / Than to put linoleum in your living rooms?" (lines 6-7). In the third stanza, the speaker boosts his own ego by declaring his own genius and individuality again: "Am I a sage or something?" (line 8). However, no matter his status, he still feels inadequate, since he will never be as "good enough" as pop-culture famous people such as Oral Roberts, F.J. Sheen, Goddy Knight, and even Hitler. The speaker then goes on to talk about love again, saying that it is an "evil word" in appearances and suggesting that no one truly understands it. The juxtaposition of the act of remembering a specific cultural moment and forced or artificial feelings of love comes fully into play by Stanza IV. The speaker describes the shows he used to watch as a child with his family in Stanza V and reveals that he is still connected to that experience today. He also refers to himself as "the poet," blurring the line between the speaker and Baraka himself. Baraka invokes again the character of The Shadow, adding a supernatural element where the Shadow has psychic abilities that show the secrets lurking in the hearts of men. Finally, the poem ends on a musical register with an even meter and a repetition of the first line. The very last two lines reiterate the speaker's assertion that love is an evil word.