Manifesto of The University of Poetry
By Marvin X
Chancellor, University of Poetry,
A Project of the Black Arts Movement
The University of Poetry is a continuation of the Black Arts Movement, a performance/academic/activist project to inspire the Cultural Revolution in African America, with implications for the rest of humanity that apparently follows closely every cultural move of African Americans. We can't fart without the world copying our fart. So perhaps we should be flattered except for the fact that often imitation becomes exploitation and we become victims of our own creations, e.g., "Lord, look what they did to my song."
Nevertheless, we shall strive forward with our cultural revolution to transform the negative aspects of our lives into the positive, to reconnect our community, parents with children, males with females, brother to brother and sister to sister, yes, even enemies must reconcile in the spirit of recovery, healing and liberation of the entire community. This is the challenge of the new millennium and we shall not move forward without meeting it. Either we are brave warriors willing to face the jihad within ourselves and our community, or we're cowards prepared to tread water until we become extinct, a forgotten people, relics of a glorious past but no future except a multicultural chasm where we exist on the last rung of the ladder, simply because we refuse to transcend our differences for the greater good, thus succumbing to a low intensity war determined to destroy us politically, economically, morally and culturally.
University of Poetry: The Performance and Educational Arm of the Cultural Revolution
As Fidel Castro has said, our weapon is consciousness, yes, it is the only weapon we have that can defeat the forces allied against us. Consciousness is an awareness of our traditions and our mission. Our tradition is a freedom loving people, not political, economic and cultural slaves to others. We reject the slave tradition of clowning and buffoonery so evident in African American artistic expression, especially movies and rap (now called yap, for rap derived from the tradition of revolutionary spoken word: H. Rap Brown, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Last Poets, Baraka, Sonia, Askia, Haki, X, and yes, Malcolm, Martin, Kwame Toure, Fannie Lou, Queen Mother Moore, Angela). If one is not aspiring to be in the tradition of Paul Robeson, i.e., the artistic freedom fighter, then one has no right to claim membership in the Black Arts Movement, and is therefore merely a whore for capitalist pimps, ready to wear any clown suit, do any shuffle, say any jingle and rhyme, put on any make up and dance for the master's American bandstand, manifesting the cultural hate personified by the likes of Michael Jackson and others too numerous to mention.
No people with consciousness would allow themselves to be paraded on BET, MTV and elsewhere as naked whores, pseudo gangstas and wannabe pimps. Although we are about artistic freedom and freedom of speech, we reject phony black bourgeoisie culture police who are themselves guilty of a profane and obscene lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, yet we demand African American artists get in harmony with our tradition and mission to use our creativity to help liberate the deaf, dumb and blind, not take them deeper into the devil's den of iniquity.
University of Poetry Will Speak Truth to Power
The University of Poetry will perform works that liberate not desecrate. Rappers have given us graphic descriptions of our psychosocial condition, now we must come with solutions. If you hate yo daddy and mama, show me how you turned hate into love, show me how you sought reconciliation and unconditional love. Otherwise, you are simply yapping nursery rhymes, snibbling like snotty nose babies too pitiful to wake up and release your lips from your mother's breasts, you ungrateful bastards! Grow up, did mama tell you life was a bowl of cherries—you are lucky to have a mother and father—think of all the children who are products of foster care.
We were not brought to America to create families, but to be mules, donkeys and horses, and have our families utterly destroyed for capitalism and slavery. And we can only overcome America's plan for us by putting on the armour of God and standing tall together, defying America's hope for our continued subservience and debauchery.
Poets and spoken word artists have an obligation to speak truth to power, not submit gleefully, yapping nonsense around the world to make a dollar and make mockery of the elders, calling them "broke heroes," although the so-called broke heroes are the reason you are among the newly rich because of their sacrifice and unconditional love for your punk asses.
The American Educational System Is An Abysmal Failure
Since the American educational system has failed to teach Johnny and Johnnymae how to read, write and most of all, think, the University of Poetry shall see it as a priority to teach basic skills. How can we have a drama class in which students are unable to read the script. I have taught such classes on the college and university level, so I know the degree of the problem. Don't try to cover ignorance and mental retardation as a result of America's public school miseducation.
The University of Poetry will train students with talent in the arts: drama, dance, music, creative writing, nonfiction, poetry and spoken word, for these are serious crafts that take discipline and training, not a jack in the box game of jingles and rhymes produced because one can memorize words that are full of sound and fury signifying nothing, although audiences are enraptured by the nothingness and babble, rewarding the jester with money at poetry Slams/Scams, deluding the person that he/she is a poet and spoken word master because of his/her natural talent as a product of the ancient African oral tradition.
Racism is the abomination of the new world, but Elijah Muhammad used racism and black supremacy as an anti-toxin to white supremacy. The Black Arts Movement did the same. Whites were often banned from attending performances and certainly from performing in productions. Harold Cruse noted how this marked a radical departure from traditional Negro theatre (see Crisis of the Negro Intellectual). Thus BAM was of, for, and by Black people, if only for a moment, time enough to get “ourselves” together. This moment was necessary to raise a people from the dead, who were full of fear after being terrorized for centuries by white supremacy.
Why is this so difficult to understand, perhaps because there are those in denial about the ravages of white supremacy on African American minds, to say nothing about what it has done to delusional white minds. Why should victims of liars and murderers want them in our presence? How can we recover with them in our midst? Can the rape victim recover with the rapist in her bed?
Even today, American racism and capitalism/imperialism is the scorn of the earth, blood sucking the poor in the name of global free trade, caring nothing for the rights of poor nations to economic parity. You consume the world’s energy for the greedy privilege of driving SUVs and having a television in every room, left on 24/7. You have no intentions of dealing with the root causes of terrorism: poverty, ignorance, and disease. Until you do so, you will become a prisoner in your own land, afraid of those outside your borders and those within whom you’ve equally mistreated, abused and falsely accused of being criminals, unworthy to share in the fruits of their labor and that of their ancestors, while white descendants enjoy the surplus capital from centuries of slave labor.
Our primary concern was then and is now ourselves. You are dangerous to our health, mental, physical, and spiritual, unless you have radicalized your consciousness, or shall we say become blackenized, certainly all vestiges of white supremacy must be processed out of your consciousness. Those whites who have worked on themselves we welcome as allies, brothers and sisters in revolution.
It is not the nature of Africans or African Americans to hate and exclude. We can be nationalists and internationalists without hating and excluding. But we do have the human right to do for self as others do, whites, Latinos, Asians, gays, lesbians, and others of every race, sex and creed.
We must not be afraid to become economically self-sufficient. We were in better economic shape under segregation, yes, when we were Negroes, now we’re black and don’t have a decent restaurant or hotel in any American city.
We have thousands of religious houses where the people receive their dose of opium as a form of social control to delay the day of our liberation, where people are taught fairy tales and nursery rhymes about a sky god who died on the cross for our sins, sins? What have African Americans done but be loyal slaves, down to this present moment we are dying in Iraq defending liars and murderers.
Finally, racism is a component of capitalism. We cannot be capitalists because we have no capital! We hardly have one black bank in America. Where are our African American global markets? We might sell a few raps songs in Europe and Asia, but do we sell a blackmobile, trucks, socks, toilet paper, matches?
Black Studies and the University of Poetry
Although black studies derived from the efforts of black revolutionary students, with the demise of the liberation struggle, radical instructors and scholars were removed and replaced with academically "qualified" collaborators and trusted colonial servants, unconcerned with the original mission of black studies: to uplift the community. As a result, for every one brother going to college, four go to prison. For the most part, black studies is a sham, a place for tenured Negroes to keep a job for life unless they rock the boat by teaching radical ideas found to be politically incorrect by their academic masters.
Black Studies began in revolution, but has succumb to reaction and irrelevance with respect to providing a leadership role in uplifting the community. Where is a truly radical black studies department? Where in America is one black radical college or university?
Please don't mention the Negro colleges and universities, mainly outhouses for training house slaves who escape the hood into corporate America and never look back. Of course the white colleges and universities do the same. Isn't it interesting that Dr. Ben couldn't find a black academic institution to donate his thirty thousand volume library? He gave it to the Nation of Islam, which is very ironic in light of his history of anti-Islamic pronouncements.
As a consequence of the above, the University of Poetry must step to the front line of community education; it must become an institution for the training of radical scholars and social activists who will fulfill the original mission of black studies by attacking illiteracy, joblessness, economic empowerment, addictions, mental and physical health issues and spiritual poverty caused by excessive religiosity. Academic subjects will be considered for their relevance to life issues as we confront America's low intensity war on a daily basis.
Gender Studies and the University of Poetry
The Arabic word nisa has two meanings depending on syllable stress. One meaning is woman, another meaning is to forget. Long ago, Warith Din Muhammad gave a lecture on how men forget women. More recently, Amina Baraka exhorted me and her husband, Amiri, not to forget women, to respect them always, especially for their contribution to our liberation struggle: "Remember the women of history, remember Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, remember Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Queen Mother Moore, remember Ella Collins," Amina cried.
The University of Poetry must address problems in male/female relations since such problems directly impact healthy family and community development. Mrs. Baraka was addressing two poets, both having the artistic sensibility and insensitivity to become emotionally detached from women, children and men in our quest for creativity, thinking a poem is more important than the human being. (Of course Amiri Baraka is qualified to speak for himself, but since I know him, I'm taking the liberty to place him in the boat with me, other poets and artists in general.)
If men of intelligence can be so detached, imagine the behavior of men with lesser intelligence. Perhaps this is why the divorce courts and the anger management programs are full. Men just don't get it and some have no intention to "get it." It will take generations before the patriarchal mentality subsides, if then, although great strides have been made in male/female equality. Now we are in danger of women getting revenge after coming into power situations. They want to oppress. Go before a female judge with a domestic violence case.
But the socialization of males and females must be examined to explore better, healthier methods of interpersonal relations. How can women who love talking endlessly, communicate with men who will go silent when approached on critical matters? "Do you hear me, man," the woman says, "Then why don't you say something?" In the TS Eliot poem the women say, "That is not what I meant, that is not what I meant at all. . . ."
Male education must involve manhood rites that allow them to explore male psychology and female psychology, and the same for women. So often we come together not knowing a damn thing about each other, until it is too late, two or three children later, several ass whippings later.
Men must learn to understand and treat females as equal but different human beings. The idea is not to make men more feminine, but to understand their natural selves and gain a more precise understanding of the opposite sex. Mythologically speaking, understand the function of the sky god and the earth mother goddess. One is the protector, one the nurturer. Today the situation is such that the woman needs protection from the protector!
And the man feels his nurturer is somehow his enemy, the very person he sleeps with he is terrified of, and often the woman feels the same. What kind of horror story is this?
Moving from myth to nature, roosters will not become hens, bulls will not become cows, so stop trying to reverse nature, although it is urgent that we understand the nature of human psychology, understand different functions of each sex, responsibilities, desires, drives and dreams. Often men are indeed lost in the stars, while women are usually forced to stay grounded in reality. As Joseph Campbell explains, men must be taught they are approaching manhood. Women know they are approaching womanhood at the first cycle—they can see, feel, touch, smell womanhood, but men need a ritual: they must come out of the sky and go into the bush to be terrified into the reality of manhood.
Men must at least listen to the dreams of women, even if we reject their dreams, and women must do the same—ultimately a compromise can and must be found. It shall never be again, "Your way or no way," although men will attempt to maintain male privilege until the sky falls—look up, brother, the sky is falling!
And women, in their new found aggression and power positions, will push their agenda at every turn, forcing men to react violently, "Bitch, I don't want to hear nothing you got to say. Shut the fuck up." But she's not going to shut up and she ain't going away—you may leave her for another woman but strangely it will be the same woman with another name. A woman is a woman is a woman is a woman, stupid!
So before there can be unity, there must be understanding. The main thing is not to oppress each other, especially since we're both freshly out of slavery. Men often feel the double-edged sword of oppression from the black woman and the white man. And women feel the same sword blade from the white man and the black man. If we, males and females, would recognize we're not enemies but friends and lovers, sailing in the same love boat, we'll be at least halfway free!
When women are at the top of their game, they have the unique ability to get anything they want from men, sometimes with the glance of an eye, a stride, a smile, the tone of her voice can totally disarm a man. Call it feminine charm or whatever, but women have been successful throughout the ages. With her newfound power, do not forget her ancient secrets that worked for thousands of years, giving her the ability to be a helpmate to great men and tearing down great men when in rage and frustration.
Consider the Children
These twisted male/female relationships have profound implications for the children. When the male departs from the jungle to the forest, the child, especially the male child, is soon out of control, usually by age 15. He is in absolute rebellion against his mother's agenda, although her agenda is often bisexual because she is forced to don the persona of the female/male. The young man's hatred is directed at the female side of the mask, although he harbors a distinct hatred for his missing father as well. So consider his rage, just as his hormones are kicking in. Again, the need for manhood training. But even with females, there is a need and desire for father's love that she will search for in fatherless young men or dirty old men!
Likewise, with young males, the hatred is transferred to girlfriends whom they verbally and physically abuse. This hatred is expressed in the poetic language of rap songs. Healing such shattered young lives is the task of mental health specialists such as Dr. Nathan Hare's Black Reconstruction mental health group sessions that he is calling to be established across America. In the interim, hip hop youth use poetry, sometimes unconsciously, for peer counseling, and this is all good. The University of Poetry must address such stress and strains in the personality of males and females, urging them to use poetry as a healing tool in their lives, let poetry be a bridge for reconciliation rather than a vehicle to only express pain and rage between the sexes and the generations.
If we were against gay and lesbian poets, there would be little poetry to read, since the arts seem to be the home of many gay people. Imagine a world without Langston Hughes or James Baldwin, or Audre Lorde and June Jordan. So my attitude is what does sex have to do with being a poet—nothing! A poet must understand human sexuality in general. A poet stuck on being gay is not a poet, for what happens when he or she must put on the persona of a man or woman, or a tree for that matter. A poet must transcend all sexuality in order to understand the universal human spirit that is, yes, beyond a particular sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians might sometimes have a more sensitive spirit, but every poet, whether gay or straight, must have a sensitive spirit.
Did Baldwin write as a gay or as a writer of the human condition? After my 1968 interview with him, I remarked to Ed Bullins, “He talked like a man.” Ed said, “He damn sho did.” Alas, Baldwin wrote the script for Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X. If he had been trapped in his gayness, how could he have written a script about a hero who symbolized black manhood? When people questioned whether he was qualified to write the script because of his gayness, Baldwin said, “Hey, I pay my rent, I write what I want to write.”
In the video version of my play One Day In The Life, a gay actor portrays my son. If he had not transcended his gayness, he wouldn’t have been in my play. So he was in my play because he was a great actor. At the audition for my play in New York, a gay brother tried out for the part but couldn’t transcend his sexuality. My daughter was casting director, and when I told her to let the guy read the part again, she said, “No, Daddy, no. Let me handle this. He got to go!”
So we have no time to condemn people for their sexual orientation. We might thereby condemn the goose laying the golden egg. We could use another Baldwin or Langston right about now to help free us from this precipice.
But I say to those who passed legislation permitting sex between consenting adults, and in California one of them was then Assemblyman Willie L. Brown, if gays can be with gays and lesbians with lesbians, then men who love prostitutes should be allowed to be with their sex workers in peace, not sneaking around in the alley like a broke dick dog, arrested and cars seized. Yes, legalize prostitution. Lakum dinu kum waliya din: to you your way and to me mine.
Sobriety for some people is possible, but not for all. Harm reduction is the model we favor, just don’t kill yourself, make an all out effort not to self destruct on drugs, if you insist on using them, try to maintain a level of functionality. Some people have been on dope for decades, working everyday and taking care of their families, they just happen to love dope and have no intention of giving it up.
Drugs should probably be legalized, especially when so many people are hooked on legal drugs. Look at the “high” and mighty Rush Limbaugh! And many people have absolutely no intention of ever giving up marijuana or even cocaine for that matter. Decriminalizing drugs would take great pressure off the legal and penal systems, especially if we treat drug abuse as a mental health issue.
We should consider the medicinal value of such drugs that have been used as such for centuries. In other words, certain illegal drugs should be integrated into the catalogue of therapeutic medicines. Some people are better off on certain drugs, even illegal drugs. They have better personalities on drugs than they do when clean and sober—they are clean and sober assholes, disgusting to be around. We should rush them their old drugs if it alters their wretched clean and sober personalities that are often fowl, evil, arrogant and abusive, the dry drunkards.
Yes, we know drugs were only the symptom, not the problem. They have issues in the deep structure of their minds that even drugs cannot remedy. Like an actor putting on makeup, they medicate themselves to face the world, sadly, the world can see underneath the makeup.
Poets and other artists are especially inclined to seek the euphoric state of mind induced by drugs, especially in the emptiness of their hotel suites after the applause is over, the last hurrah. We know the best high is the natural high, we know the body produces the chemicals to make us high, if we would only do the natural thing to release these chemicals. But like the common people, we go for the punk high, high on the cheap, although it can be very expensive, costing our very lives, affecting our families and friends in our selfishness and eagerness to self-destruct. The Ken Burns documentary on jazz artists was so tragic to see our great artists self destructing one after the other. As great as she was, we wonder how greater Billie Holiday would have been without drugs.
And Charlie Parker, Miles, Coltrane, et al.
Art requires a high state of discipline, so young artists, poets, must come to the conclusion that a clear mind is the best tool for success. If one must indulge, try harm reduction. This is what I do. I can do without drugs, but if I want to drink alcohol I do so. But I get high writing as I’m doing right now. I get high seeing my children, woman (when she acts right, whatever that means), visiting the mountains, rivers, creeks, oceans.
Nothing is all bad, even drugs, nor is anything all good, except God. So get with the Most High and stay high forever.
Poets and Mental Health
It is a truism that there is a thin line between creativity and insanity. Poets walk the razor’s edge of being in this world and hearing voices from another world, the world of creation, myth making, and word magic. My first Arabic name was Nazzam, organizer or systematizer, which is what poets do, create a system of myth with their body of work.
Often we are amazed at our creative productions, for what is the source of these words
that seem to spring from a well deep in the human consciousness, or perhaps the collective consciousness of humanity as Jung suggested. For sure the poet’s mythology is but an extension of universal myth with the addition of his unique and original creations, stemming from his personal and communal life. He cannot claim total originality because his basic language is his Mother Tongue, the language of his people, thus his essential myths belong to his tribe, his nation, and he cannot escape this reality, no matter how deep he transcends into mystic shamanism.
In this sense, the poet is never, for all his individuality, an individual, but he is the collective voice of his people. Yes, he speaks for the living, the dead and the yet unborn; he speaks for the blind, the deaf and dumb; he speaks for the fearful, the speechless, the trembling and even the bold, the brave and the strong. If and when he is on point, the people will tell him so. In this sense, the poet is a mirror reflecting truth and beauty that the people already know, but they feel good to know that he knows and can speak about it, spit it out, make it plain, put it in stone.
Now when it goes to stone, sometimes the people are shaken, because they know the poet has gone down the hall of eternity and now they are spooked, for who knows what lies down the halls of eternity? This is why the poet must tell the truth, for no one wants lies sketched on the walls of eternity. And then too, who wants the truth inscribed in the halls and on the walls of eternity, if and when it happens to be the bitter truth, the ugly truth, the low down dirty truth. My family was horrified when I told the truth about them in my autobiography, even though some of the truth was already in the street. So what, they said, at least it wasn’t in stone.
Often the poet is bewildered by his words because he can be overwhelmed—so smart he outsmarts himself, thus, perhaps, they are not his words but the voice of God speaking through him. I said long ago, “I am the pen, Allah is the ink.” Yes, often the pen breaks down, we indeed trick ourselves, contradict our words in every way—and the people love to see us in contradiction, although they love us in righteousness as well, sometimes they will help us energetically no matter what route we choose, out of love.
In the dope house, I was given honor and respect no matter how much and how hard I tried to remain incognito because I knew I was a walking contradiction. But the people knew who I was and treated me as a hero, even though I was walking in shame. Even Huey Newton told me, “Don’t beat yaself, Jackmon,” as we sat smoking crack in West Oakland. I read that during slavery the people knew the leaders, the priests, the warriors, the griots, and they bowed down to them, gave them their propers.
We cannot hide from the people, they know who we are. I caught a woman in the dope house without any dope. She didn’t know me, but she said she saw me when I walked in and wondered what the fuck is this nigguh doing in the dope house. And after I rapped to her, she left with me, again, even though I didn’t have any dope. And we kicked it together for a minute. She tried to help me recover, although she was an alcoholic herself, and eventually lost her life in the game (peace be upon her). But as they say, game recognizes game!
In spite of all the above, we occasionally find ourselves in the mental ward. Yes, as my beloved brother Askari X titled his first album, we find ourselves a “Ward of the State.”
Yes, and I quote him, “A motherfuckin ward of the state.” I just want to say, Askari X is the most powerful Islamic poet I’ve ever heard. He became my son for awhile and I saw him come back from total insanity to a modicum of sanity, then back again to the outer limits, but in his good moments, I observed his genius mind in the studio recording entire albums from recall, doing retakes with perfect recall, a manifestation of the powerful African oral tradition. The present crop of rappers are far from the cream of the crop, wait til the real deal hollyfields step to the front of the line, and don’t expect to see them on BET or Def Poetry Jam, stay tuned to the black underground BAM station in your area.
During my stay in the mental hospital, I had the companionship of many poetic and artistic brothers and sisters. Clearly, some of our disabilities are shared by the general population, but poets were in abundance during my stay, point of information.
So all of us, poets and non-poets, might benefit from Dr. Nathan Hare’s prescription to establish peer mental health group sessions throughout this wretched land. Dr. Hare says we need not have present a professional mental health worker, but we can meet in the manner of AA, CA, NA, as peers to process our mental health issues. It is crystal clear to me that poets are doing this unconsciously in their open mikes and spoken word events, but we need to do it consciously so we are aware of the crisis and therefore take our poems more seriously because of their therapeutic nature and move beyond simple-minded applause into discussion, resolution, and conscious healing. Church!
Poets especially need Dr. Hare’s mental health group titled Black Reconstruction, alluding to the post slavery period of our African American sojourn, also the title of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois’s classic study of the post slavery period by the same name BLACK RECONSTRUCTION. Poets need Black Reconstruction because we think we are so clever with our poetic pronouncements that we, sometimes, totally escape the reality called life, with all its implications and requirements for using common sense, rather than poetic sense which is often nothing but nonsense of the highest order. Somebody help me, Church!
Addiction and Liberation
Chemical and sexual addictions were the plague of our movement and partly caused its failure, in spite of our achievements which were significant when we stop beating ourselves and consider our accomplishments, as Amina Baraka constantly reminds us.
But after our daily round in a cloud of marijuana, accompanied by a plate of cocaine powder and a bottle of expensive brandy, observed by the hip hop generation, our children, they followed our example to the extent they now tell us at a rap concert, “We ain’t comin on stage less you get some Hennesy and bitches up in this motherfuckin dressin room."
Consequently, we must at least use the harm reduction model when and if total abstinence is not possible. If you must drink, cut the dosage. If you want sex with groupies, practice safe sex. There’s a right way to even do wrong. Don’t do wrong too long!
University of Poetry and Political Education
Since our politicians have been derelict in their duty to establish political institutes for the training of the next generation of political scientists, the University of Poetry will hold classes in political education.
While Elijah said, "No politician of this world can save you," it is also true that relevant and socially committed politicians can be helpful when held accountable to the community. It is indeed sad to see Christian ministers such as Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton stumble and fumble with liberation theology in the political area, while our trained politicians seem to hide and duck challenging the power structure.
Imagine, one black woman, Barbara Lee, challenged the war hawks in the Bush house. One black woman, Cynthia McKinney, questioned the Bush devils on 9/11. If and when poets are required to step into the political area, we shall do so without fear.
Amiri Baraka brought over ten thousand people together at the National Black Assembly. Perhaps it is time to call another assembly, but a trained cadre of conscious and politically aware artists can and must move history forward. Those dead head rappers and poets must fall in line or fall into the dustbin of ancient history, taking their bling bling and slam/scams with them.
In The Beginning Was The Word
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and belongs to God. Those who play with the word are playing with God and He don't like ugly. The word is sacred, the word is holy, so be about the business of spreading truth not nonsense, lies, and frivolity for the sake of applause and a few pennies thrown from the master's table. Either get with Moses or go down as one of Pharaoh's magicians.
The Bible tells us the people were destroyed for lack of knowledge. Although we are in the Information Age, our community suffers from information starvation, with little relevant news from commercial or community newspapers (often community papers are either a hip hop rag sheet or a bourgeoisie perpetuation of the world of make believe and pseudo high society, so eloquently delineated by sociologist E. Franklin Frazier four decades ago in his classic Black Bourgeoisie.
Baraka asks, "Where are the black radical newspapers and magazines? Where are the freedom journals representing the aspirations of a people forty million strong, a people who are the 16th richest nation in the world?"
We Must Train Fearless Journalists
If these publications don't exist-and they don't-then the time has arrived to create them. We must train journalist dedicated to community service rather than objectivity.
Either the police beat Rodney King's ass or they didn't-there is nothing to be objective about. Either the police shot Diallo 41 times or they didn't-don't hide behind objectivity to eat a meal at Pharaoh's table. We must train fearless journalists, informed of world events so they can inform a community steeped in darkness of international affairs.
Additionally, the University of Poetry must train our community how to locate alternative news sources such as Al Jazeerah, Al Arabiyah, Pacifica News, NPR, and BBC, the most listened to news service on the planet—few Negroes tune in to the BBC unless they're outside this country.
If you don't listen to Amy Goodman's Democracy Now, one is simply out of the information loop. And where is our Amy Goodman? Oprah?
Where is our African American emergency information hotline? We know we cannot rely on governmental sources of information, nor can we depend on government bootlickers NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and CNN, agents of misinformation and white racist propaganda.
Baraka has told us to stop thinking like Americans. Americans own ABC, CBS, NBC, et al, we don't—we were too stupid to keep BET. Nevertheless, we can create news sources in the Digital Age, improve and support TBWT and others. We can and must create the necessary radical journals, magazines, and newspapers that reflect the tradition of Freedom's Journal, Garvey's Negro World and Elijah's Muhammad Speaks.
Our publications need not be slick like Ebony, Essence, Vibe—content will make them slick. Remember how eagerly we sought copies of the Crusader by Robert Williams, a little hand sized newsletter that was earthshaking in calling for radical change.
Poets And The Religious Experience
The great mythologist Joseph Campbell taught that religion(s) prevent us from having the religious experience. Religion is basically a code of conduct for the masses, an opiate to keep them under control. I once asked Minister Farakhan why do religions, all religions, make slaves of believers? He simply said we must somehow move to the point that religion is a liberating force rather than an enslaver.
I have written elsewhere (Religion and Revolution) that religion is a road to God, God being the Mountain, so religion is a path up the mountain. Most people need religion because they fear going up the mountain alone, they want someone to hold their hand, to guide them, fearful, they refuse to stand alone and face God butt naked. So religious leaders baby sit them while they read kindergarten books about God, rather than plow up the mountain like a warrior after his enemy, although God is their friend, alas, God is themselves. Martin Luther King, Jr. went up to the mountaintop of himself and saw God in himself and needed to see no more. His work was finished. Somebody get a healing.
The priest, the preacher, the imam does not detour from the holy books, only the poet is fearless enough to go beyond the book into the dark abyss of mystical joy and searching. The priest/preacher/imam is locked in traditional myth and ritual, but the poet kicks down the door of tradition to make himself one with the Divine. By definition, he must transcend the common rites and rituals to experience the metaphysical, the mystical intercourse with God; in his fearlessness, in his search for something new, something extraordinary, he may "walk through the muck and mire of hell," but if he is a true believer, a shaman, he will "come out clean as white fish and black as coal" (quote from James Sweeney, foreword to In the Crazy House Called America by Marvin X).
The University of Poetry must teach spirituality but not religion. Spirituality is being one with God, being God, expressing godliness in all that we do. We are not apart from God, hence there is nothing to learn except to know who we really are. We are in God/ God is in us. There is no separation, no sin, we cannot get out of our God skin, except when we refuse to recognize what we are wearing. We have on an expensive fur coat, but we don't want to recognize it, so the thief comes and steals it off our back and we stand naked in the snow. Of course Jesus taught us sometimes it is better to give the thief your coat and your cloak, for God is still within, closer than our jugular vein, closer than all the blood flowing from head to toe, closer than close, if we recognize.
And we better recognize, in other words, make salat, prayer, as in salute, recognize. But our every move should be salat, not five times a day but all day, every step we step with God consciousness, every move we move in harmony with the Divine flow of the universe. We flow with the flow, whom shall we fear, fear is the counter flow, going against the Divine, against ourselves, the very essence of our being, our godliness or goodness. God is myself, whom shall I fear.
The man told you the only thing to fear is fear itself. Someone asked me why don't I go lead the people. I asked them, "Why don't you go lead the people." You won't do it because you are afraid, shaking in your boots, so you want someone else to do what you should be doing. To hell with you. Lead yourself, stupid! Enough men and women have died for you, die for yourself, or rather, live for yourself and others will follow your example. Just like you're watching me, somebody is watching you, so don't ask me to bear your burden. They say I fought battles I didn't have to fight, so now it's your turn, the ball is in your court, the baton is in your hand, run with it and don't look back. Keep the faith until you win the race!
All religions make slaves of believers, robots who recite myth and enact rituals unto death, thus creating the present situation of savage murder and self annihilation throughout the world in order to fulfill religious precepts, whether Christian White Supremacy or Muslim Fundamentalism. But often ignorance, poverty, and disease take the religious fanatic beyond tradition into the absurd because of hopelessness under authoritarian and fascist oppression, pseudo democracies and barbaric theocracies.
Under such conditions, the oppressed have the human and divine right to overthrow the oppressor by any means necessary, including self-annihilation, to hell with this life, persecution is worse than slaughter, better we perish than suffer oppression for one minute, one day, and we have suffered four hundred years. Why do we even bring slave children into the world, better to abort them than allow them to be fuel for the fires of oppression, to be tricks for the blood suckers of the poor, to go about their daily round deaf, dumb and blind, yes, blind in this world and blind in the hereafter. Wake up and see God, look in the mirror.
Perhaps the poet's insanity can bring about sanity to a world full of religions but devoid of persons enjoying the religious experience. Yes, the power of the poet is such that he can make you cry like you're at your mother's funeral. As a young man I did a production of Baraka’s Dutchman at Fresno State University. I needed a wig for Ethna X. Wyatt (now Hurriyah, queen of Black Arts West Theatre and Black House, San Francisco) to perform the role of the white woman Lula. So I got a local pimp to loan me a wig belonging to one of his sex workers.
The pimp came to the production and when he saw Lula stab Clay to death it rocked his world so much that he gave up pimping and joined the Nation of Islam, later became an Imam under Warith Din Muhammad, even made his haj to Mecca, such is the power of drama. And if the poet cannot move you in this fashion, to this degree, then he is not a poet and most certainly not a shaman, thus you are right to return to the authority of your priest/preacher/imam, and live happily ever after, deaf, dumb and blind to your divinity and eternity.
Poet As Shaman
The poet as shaman is a visionary who sees with his third eye, his spiritual eye. A people who don’t support their poets and other artists will get no prophecy and see no visions, Baraka said long ago. But the poet as shaman is in this world but not of this world. He is simultaneously in harmony with nature and beyond nature. He is in harmony with the trees, rivers, oceans, mountains, valleys, sun, moon, and stars. He is in harmony with the bees, birds, dogs, cows, and horses, even the flies. He knows and understands the flies. When flies bug him in the house, he knows they are telling him to let them out, so he opens the door for them to exit rather than kill them with the swatter.
He demands freedom for himself and all human beings, men and women. He must be free to think, to imagine the impossible, to create new thoughts, new configurations of society that are healthy and wholesome rather than destructive and demoralizing, inhibiting self development and transformation. For example, is the concept of marriage functional in the new age? Fifty per cent of the marriages end in divorce, pretty sad odds. Maybe we need to take a look at the concept and consider a reconfiguration that will make relationships more lasting and not full of sorrow, pain, and suffering, but happiness and joy.
We must look at the system of justice and envision a better way. Why should millions be imprisoned for petty crimes while the filthy rich plunder the world beyond the arm of justice. How shall the world disarm and arrest such global criminals for polluting the environment and pimping the poor unto death in the name of free trade, free slavery?
So it is the duty of the poet /shaman to think of ways out of this morass of suffering and injustice. He must conjure words that liberate the human spirit, inspire people to dream the impossible, to unite for the common good rather than selfish desires. The poet/shaman must force people to give up their fears, doubts and inferior complexes created by the social oppression of centuries. He must make the people feel good about themselves because he has given them knowledge, wisdom, and the appreciation of beauty and truth.
Music and Poetry
Sun Ra said, “Marvin, don’t you know armies march to music?” Of course they do, and music can kill, music can heal. When my driver suffered a mental breakdown, Sun Ra sent the brother an album and he got better. Music is therapy, and for black people it is truly their only therapist, they refuse any other doctor, maybe except doctor feel-good, as Aretha sang.
Music was an essential part of the BAM, coast to coast. Baraka had Sun Ra, the Aylers, Archie Shepp, Pharaoh Sanders, Milford Graves, Don Pullins. On the West Coast we had Dewey Redman, Raphael Donald Garrett, Monte Waters, BJ, Earl Davis, Oliver Johnson, and later Bobby Hutcherson, Sun Ra, Juju with Babatunde Lea and Plunky. In Chicago they had the Art Ensemble and Phil Corans Afro-Arts Theatre.
Today I am blessed to perform with Destiny (harp), Tarika (violin) and Tacuma (djembe and other instruments), and I detest performing without them. Yes, their “new age” sounds are healing for me, if no one else. Physician heal thyself.
We know music affects our central nervous system, calming us down or hyping us into a stupor. The culture police worry about the affect of lyrics on youth, but some youth informed me they pay no attention to the lyrics, only the beat, so perhaps the culture police should turn their attention away from the so-called disgusting lyrics and consider the beats and their effect on the mentality of youth. It’s the beats that have them bobbing and weaving like palm trees in the wind.
So I want music that can soothe the wild beast and transform the beast into a soldier for the cultural revolution. The BAM, revolution also had Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and My Favorite Things, Eric Dolphy’s Round Midnight, Mile’s Kind of Blue, and Nina talking plenty shit, but music, not techno music, live music that brought us alive and made us challenge the evil powers. Today the music is fostering the state of Yakubism, perpetuating violence and negative thinking, instead of healing sounds that liberate us mentally and physically. See the great Sufi master Hazrat Khan on music and sound.
We know there are only so many rhythms and each one has a different effect on the heart or central nervous system. Vudun, Santeria, Condomble all have rhythms to call forth the gods or spirits, each with a different purpose for each devotee, who only responds to a particular god’s rhythm or drum beat. But we’re dancing to beats about which we know nothing, except they make us feel good, meanwhile they are destroying our central nervous system, causing us to have a mental breakdown, yes, as we go down funky!
Ain’t it funky now. I didn’t say James Brown wasn’t healing!
The poet must integrate his healing words with healing music, and don’t forget the dancer who can translate our poetry into body language to help make the poem plain. Work that magic Raynetta Rayzetta! Elijah said, “I am only after the plainest way to get truth to my people. Poetry is a science.” So we want to make it so plain a fool can understand, the blind can see and the deaf can hear.
Poetics of Yakubism
The poetry genre “rap” must be examined from the reference point of the Muslim myth of Yakub, the mad scientist who created the white man through genetic engineering. (See Elijah Muhammad’s Message to the Black Man and Amiri Baraka’s play A BLACK MASS.) Yakub discovered the magnetic attraction of playing with two pieces of steel.
Hip Hop youth are fond of playing with steel, especially the gangsta rappers and their devotees. They repeatedly rap about gun violence, apparently have a fixation with weapons of steel, thus we call them Yakub’s children. Now the previous generation played with knives, so we were Yakubites as well. But our guns were mainly for hunting animals. Today’s Yakubites hunt each other. Often it is not about dope or sex, simply boredom, as some youth told me, “Man, when we bored, we put on our bulletproof vests, get our uzis and ride through the hood shootin nigguhs.” Are we not worse than the KKK? At least they don’t shoot each other!
Cars reflect the Yakub syndrome. Youth drive at high speed through city streets, killing innocent people while doing donuts and other tricks with their steel toys. And Yakub’s children can be seen playing in the streets while 2,000 pounds of steel is coming at them.
And they refuse to move as if the steel can stop on a dime. The children will walk right into the steel, fearless in the face of certain death, and will curse you for blowing your horn to warn them to get their ignut asses out of the street.
Of course, we must look at the teachers of Yakub’s children, America, the number one gun merchant of the world, who also supplies guns to Yakub’s children in the hoods of America, along with dope to destabilize the community. Gangsta rap adds fuel to the fire, with lyrics and videos praising violence, if only verbal violence, against brothers and sisters, reducing women to sex objects and parading them in prostitute garb.
In ancient times, the Yakubites were banned from the holy land, exiled in the hills and caves of Europa. As punishment for playing with steel, we may need to banish the modern Yakubites, unless they are willing to enter recovery and become civilized, renouncing urban savagery, whether poetic or real.
Poetics and Psycholinguistics
We are speaking here of the relationship between the mind and language. Sometimes words have us in such a tizzy we can’t think straight. We are so confused about the word nigguh we can’t engage in civil conversation about the term. And the irony is that no matter what we think about it, the term is now in worldwide usage with the multi-cultural hip hop generation. The word nigguh is literally making billions of dollars, yet the nigguhs are often mortally afraid of the term, as they are afraid of themselves, generally.
True, its origin conjures the most despicable aspects of American history and culture, yet language is in constant flux, taking on new meanings or connotations, so it is culturally lagging to remain fixated on the denotation of a word that has been transformed into something positive rather than negative. Get over it, nigguh ain’t going nowhere soon, unless we stop speaking English. It is one of the most powerful words in American English with multiple meanings, depending on tone, stress and speaker. It can get you killed or get you in bed with your lover. It is a word that comes from the depths of slavery but its current usage indicates the slave’s language is superior to the master’s.
For all his effort to make it a term of debasement, it is now a term of love and appreciation, as in “You my nigguh.” And this can be said between two white persons, Latinos, Asians, or whomever. Negro speech is but another aspect of our culture that is co-opted by world culture, over which we have absolutely no control. Do we control Blues, Jazz, or Rap for that matter? And now poetry is being pimped by slams and def jams. We understand there is a poetry war in Los Angeles between the conscious poets and the dead head slam poets.
While we believe in freedom of speech, we must push for poetry that moves history forward, not treading water in the personal, but reaching out to arouse political consciousness in a people who amble about like dead men walking. Imagine, there is no black representation in the California State legislature above Bakersfield. This is a pitiful situation that reflects the apolitical nature of the times and poets must break the spell with word magic.
On another point, I maintain there are no profane or obscene words, only profane and obscene actions. Saying motherfucker is in no way equal to being a mother fucker. Words are the tool of poets, writers, so just as Picasso would not limit himself to certain colors, no poet is going to limit his language except in context. Words only have relevance in context.
If we are writing for polite society, we might use Miller Lite language. But if we are describing or recreating language of the hood, we use Old English 800 terminology, some ass kicking shit.
Writers/poets must have freedom of speech. We cannot be held hostage to the culture police whether they are phony black bourgeoisie, religious or radical purists, all of whom can be found using the most vile language when it suits them, usually in anger and rage. A friend who abhors the term bitch, recently informed me she called her son a bitch in anger and rage at his juvenile behavior. So the culture police are at the very least hypocritical, and most certainly ignorant of the complex function of language, or is it simply denial, again context: it’s proper and improper depending on the moment.
Baraka jammed me one night in New York for using profanity in the presence of his wife, who quite frequently uses profanity, especially in describing and communicating with her husband. But I was horrified that the motherfucker who taught me how to say motherfucker had flipped on me and was telling me to shut up. Yes, this is the man whose poetics freed us psycholinguistically during the 60s. What poet or playwright wasn’t influenced by The Dutchman? Perhaps Baraka has become conservative, but again, words are valid in context, and even now when he wants to say motherfucker he doesn’t hesitate to include it in a poem or in conversation.
I find it very strange when the culture police tell me not to use certain language because children are present, yet, the children use more gutter language that myself, Baraka and Shakespeare together. Yes, the old bard was raw when the occasion called for it.
Now if we want to talk about a new language, it would be the language of silence, yes, don’t read my lips, but read my mind. I can read yours. I know what you’re thinking, so be silent. Why is it necessary to yap endlessly day and night, especially when you have no idea what you’re saying, you’re simply masturbating at the mouth. Words are extensions of our mind, so let’s go to the deep structure and read minds. You don’t need to call me on the phone because I already know what you’re thinking, and you know what’s on my mind. Silencia por favor.
Sex is the gasoline that fuels the poetic engine. After climax, the poet can get up and write all nite. He is energized, although he may never get enough, a delusion of his addictive personality. He is addicted to beauty and truth, often both of them come in the form of the opposite sex.
But normal sex is not good enough. The worse thing in the world to tell the poet is to be normal. “Why don’t you act like normal people?” The last thing on earth he wants to be is normal. Now if you want a normal motherfucker, get yo square ass away from the poet person. He is the natural born freak. He wants more and a variety thereof. If you think he will ever be satisfied with only you, you are dumber than the dumbest mule let out of Georgia. Not only does he love beauty and truth, but the more beauty and truth the better.
Even if you are the most beautiful woman in the world, the poet looks at you thinking it would be even more beautiful if there were two of you taking care of me. Church!
No one should ever approach the poet with the idea he should do anything normal, for he dwells in the abnormal, the different, just to be different. He is sexually insatiable, just to be insatiable, simply because in your simple mindedness you think he should be satisfied.
He purposely must fuck with you, go beyond your normal thoughts, so that you never consider him on such a lowly plain—in his warped mind.
And yet, there comes a woman who takes him beyond sex into the love zone, although in the deep structure of his mind, he is in love with poetry. Poetry is his lover, just as Duke Ellington said, “Music is my mistress.”
Believe it or not, he is ultimately asexual, caring nothing for sex, especially if it interferes with his creativity. Was it Emerson who said, “I would write on the lentils of a door post.”?
His sheets are full of ink from pens he left uncapped after falling asleep writing in bed. He is funky, refusing to bathe after writing for days. And he is the supreme distant lover, never, ever, never, ever there. Look into his eyes, but he is not there, his mind is lost in a poem, while his lover chats endlessly about their relationship and what a commitment means to her, as if he gives a fuck about what she’s running off at the mouth about in her utter seriousness that means absolutely nothing to him. He is lost in poetic dreamland, where he lives 24/7 and most likely where he will die, graciously. It doesn’t matter if you have been with him four years or thirty-four years, the net result is the same, so you either love the man ya wit or get yo ass on—whatever ya do, don’t think ya gonna change baby boy cause it ain’t that kinna party. Love him for what he is and where he is: in the poetic dreamland where he lives and where his heart is at in peace, and where no one but God can penetrate. Church! So now you know, poets are crazy motherfuckers.
The Poetics of Love
Love is the grand theme of poetry, all other themes pale in comparison because love is at the heart and soul of every poet. Of course love of the opposite sex is often a metaphor for Divine love. And what is hate except a heart crying out for love, so love is the question and the answer, the problem and the solution. How often do we hear young poets crying in their poems about what love has or hasn’t done to them, and old poets as well, so poets must go deep down into the sea of love and write from there the poems of eternity, even political poems are rooted in love of justice, truth and peace, but love is the motivator, love for a new day beyond the white night of oppression and human misery, love, even when love is impossible the thought is ever present to have the experience, the joy.
Now of course poets sometimes find themselves full of love, so full they take it for granted, after picking all the lilies in the field, and the lilies seem to come a poet’s way with each poem recited. Want to win the soul of a beautiful woman, read her a poem that touches her heart strings and she will melt into your arms, even break into tears at the beauty of your words, and even you will be shocked at the power of poetry, so try not to abuse these divine words that spring from the fountain of eternity like a well placed before you by God Himself, so never think you are self sufficient, this idea is the stuff of classic tragedy, Shakespeare’s dramas are full of men and women who thought too much of themselves, beyond themselves, so they fell into disgrace and shame. And they wondered what happened to love.
University of Poetry and Basic Education
Finally, the University of Poetry is for all brothers and sisters who can't learn anywhere else, who might be teachable with the spoken word. We know they can learn, perhaps the failure has been methodology, insincere teachers and administrators. We want the University of Poetry to be a place students are taught with love, patience and understanding. We know Johnny and Johnnymae can learn. Johnny sells dope, thus he's a salesman. He weighs and measures dope, so he knows math. He cooks dope, so he is a chemist. He packages dope, so he deals with marketing and promotion. Johnny can learn. He has look outs, so he deals with security. He keeps the count right on pain of death, so he knows bookkeeping. Johnny can learn. He has a baby and a baby mama, so he deals with responsibility. Johnny can learn. Let's teach him at the University of Poetry.
Let's make one thing perfectly clear: the University of Poetry is not about freedom, rather discipline, discipline, discipline, in the spirit of our dearly departed master teacher Sun Ra, mystic, musician, philosopher, poet, mythologist, ritualist of the Black Arts Movement. Long live Master Teacher Sun Ra!
Funding the University of Poetry
In conclusion, lack of a stable economic base caused the fall of the Black Arts Movement,, aside from its alignment with the liberation movement and the government's orchestrated attack on the overall freedom struggle. The University of Poetry can and must be sustained by the people, not by the whims of governmental and corporate funders, although we have a right to such funds because they are derived from tax dollars. But we must be self sustaining and beyond censorship, independent, including beyond the slimy fingers of the black culture police. If the dead head rappers and poets don't want to join the revolution, they can make donations and be sponsors. They should not have a profit motive: the revolution is not for profit. Bacon said, "Truth will not make you rich, but it will make you free." As-Salaam-Alaikum.
University of Poetry National Tour
We want to take the University of Poetry on a national tour of twenty-seven major cities to perform with legends of the Black Arts Movement, and hip hop conscious poets, also to conduct workshops as described above, establishing a University of Poetry in each community. We must produce journals, newspapers, magazines, books, videos, films, CDs in each community to advance the cultural revolution. The tour should have an executive committee and a local organizing committee that will help raise the necessary funds for each community and do the outreach, marketing, promotion, and logistics.
Budget for the National Tour is estimated @ $100,000 per city for a total of $2,700,000. If you would like to help sponsor this tour or would like to make a generous donation. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.