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Gary Younge
Laureate faces silence of the iambs

New Jersey's legislature has voted to abolish the position of state poet laureate after the governor discovered that he could not sack the current holder of the post.

Amiri Baraka, who was appointed by the Democrat state governor, James McGreevey, has attracted criticism since reading his poem Somebody Blew Up America at a festival last year.

The poem, a series of rhetorical questions, is primarily a diatribe against American racism and imperialism, asking "Who stole Puerto Rico", "Who killed the most Jews" and "Who keep the Irish a colony".

But it also implied that Israel knew in advance that the September 11 terrorist attacks were going to happen, and repeated the anti-semitic urban myth that Israelis were told not to go to work on the day.

The poem also asks: "Who know why five Israelis was filming the explosion /And cracking they sides at the notion?"

The furore created by the reading prompted Mr McGreevey to denounce Baraka, and to ask him to resign and to stop taking his $10,000 (£6,000) annual stipend. Only when Baraka refused to go did Mr McGreevey find out that he had no authority to sack him.

Last week the New Jersey state legislature voted 69-2 to abolish the post of poet laureate.

Baraka has now threatened to sue the state for violating his first amendment rights to free speech and for slander. "Very few of those people have even read that poem," he said. "I can't have a differing opinion about a foreign state?"

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