Thursday, November 1, 2007

Amiri Baraka and Marvin X Rock UC Berkeley Poetry Reading

Amiri Baraka was his usual feisty and musical self at Wheeler Hall tonight on the campus of UC Berkeley. He added his own drum beats by pounding on the podium to a packed crowd of mostly white students as he delivered his revolutionary poems in his inimitable style. We were told the Wheeler audience is not used to such disquieting poetics, but they were in for an even greater shock when he handed the mike to his comrade in the Black Arts Movement, the Bay Area's Marvin X, one of the co-founders of BAM and a former UC lecturer in Black Studies. The UC Berkeley Bancroft Library recently acquired his archives.

Marvin stepped to the podium and recited in his well known booming voice that rocked the auditorium and sent shock waves through the students. In short, they came alive and attentive to his every word, enunciated clearly as his mother taught him, "Boy, you are not going far in life if you don't stop mumbling and speak up so people can understand what you saying."

He read three poems: This, What If and Baghdad by the Bay: The Surge is Working. Even though shocked, the audience clearly appreciated his delivery and message. Many were surprised to learn he is the West Coast founder of BAM, along with playwright Ed Bullins. Marvin, Ed Bullins and Eldridge Cleaver organized the political/cultural center known as Black House which became the center of Black radical culture for a few months in 1967. It later became the headquarters of the San Francisco Black Panther Party. Through Black House came artists and politicos such as Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, Amina Baraka, Chicago Art Ensemble, Avochja, Sarah Webster Fabio, Emory Douglas, Samuel Napier, George Murray, Little Bobby Hutton, and a host of others.

Master poet Amiri Baraka returned to the mike for the Q and A. He told them we are in a reactionary time but the duty of the poet is to tell the truth, to spread consciousness and help swing the pendulum to revolution. He gave the Sisyphus metaphor of rolling the rock up the hill only to have it fall down again--such has been the historical cycle of our people, and according to Baraka we are in the down cycle. We have a genre of post civil rights negroes who know no struggle, see no struggle and hear no struggle, deaf, dumb and blind, yet believe they are walking in the light. He told the room of poets and literary students to get their writings out by any means necessary. Take a que from Marvin X, publish them yourself, he said. Don't wait to be discovered.

Baraka reads again tomorrow, Thursday at 12 noon and 6:30pm. If Marvin doesn't appear with him, he will probably be downtown Oakland at his outdoor classroom, 14th and Broadway. On Friday he will conduct his Pan African Mental Health Peer Group at the Berkeley Black Repertory Group Theatre, 3201 Adeline, 7pm.

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