NJ Poet Laureate Says Must Be Invited to Defend Alleged anti-Semitic Poem

TRENTON, New Jersey - Lawmakers are willing to let the state's embattled poet laureate come before them to defend the poem in which he is accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. But Amiri Baraka said he won't come without an invitation.

Baraka doesn't think lawmakers will give him a fair hearing when they consider two bills Thursday that would remove him from his post. Current law does not allow him to be fired and the Newark poet has declined Gov. James McGreevey's call for his resignation, saying his poem, "Somebody Blew Up America" was misinterpreted.

"I have said from the beginning, let's have a debate about this thing. Let's look at the poem and see what it actually says," Baraka said. "But those legislators are so hypocritical they have never asked me to come down there."

Testimony from Baraka would be welcomed by the committee, but there are no plans to issue a personal invitation, said Sen. Garry Furnari, co-chairman of the Senate State Government Committee.

Furnari said he didn't know what Baraka could say that would influence the committee either way.

"The poet laureate is supposed to engage in activities that promote and encourage poetry in the state," Furnari said. "When you take on that role, things you say and do must be governed by the position."

Baraka has said repeatedly that he is not anti-Semitic and was not referring to American Jews in the poem.

The lines singled out by critics read: "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed/Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day?/Why did Sharon stay away?"