The Poetic Mission
In time of struggle and crisis, the poet must become a propagandist who whips defeat into victory, sadness into joy. Truth is paramount--there are lives at stake, hence this is no game, no job for money, no position for public adoration, no ego trip. Call it revolution, change of the most radical form. Marvin
Maybe the subject should be "poetic missions." At the heart of the problem for poets is to discover what is the Mission, isn't it, if there is such a thing? Missions vary from moment to moment, occasion to ocassion, I would think. Is the audience "the people" or is it the poet's sense of the people? Or is the poet's audience, his choir? Is the poet really a truth sayer? Or does he/she often obfuscate (or exaggerate) the truth, maybe for good reasons, maybe for awful consequences? I suspect that neither poems nor poets have a special Mission. It is a romantic notion that has outlived its times.
Poems can be sledge hammers (hurtful) or they can be subtle (very subtle), like Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem, Praise song for the day? Which ones indeed carry more truth? Which ones are more effective in getting us where we want to go? Some poems are not so easily interpreted, as in Kwame Dawes, New Day, which some might be view as a eulogy for the living. Poems are symbolical as well as prosaic. Some poems are intended to shock.
For instance, take Baraka's "The Masquerade Is Over."
The Masquerade is Over
Hitler is alive
Now he lives
In Israel .
The Master Race
The new Nazism
The old oppressed Jews
Call them Palestinians
Amiri Baraka 12/08
Does this poem express the Truth. If it does, is it a truth that the people can digest? Or does it stimulate untruths or more conflicts or more hatreds? Do you grant too much to the "mission" of the poet? Is poetry the same as propaganda, which some associate with out right lies and distortions? How do we reconcile the two?
As you know many of the poems of the BAM period are relics and say more about the mindset of the period or the poet, for instance, some of the poems of Nikki Giovanni or poems of Sonia Sanchez. The poets themselves might argue that they are not relevant for today. Or they would denounce or apologize for them as the expression of youth, and not really the Truth.
Is poetry not also a personal statement that says more about the person at the time of writing, than it does the Truth?
Take for instance your poem in response to the slaughter in Gaza:
Who Are These Jews?
Who are these Jews
Vandals from Europe
Who know best how to murder, slaughter, bomb and lie
Claiming holy land
Chosen of God they say
Lord let us pray
If they are his chosen
Even Jesus condemned the synagogue of Satan
Where is the work of Abraham?
The peace love faith
these are devils
Usurpers like the Crusaders
from some place
Maybe outer space
Why did Hitler treat them so mean?
look how they act in the holy land of God
Bombing to hell people with nothing
Half a century nothing
No water food medicine
Hospitals mosques schools smashed to smithereens
Who are these Jews?
God’s holy people
Seizing homes of others
Yet claim they come in peace
Where is the peace with your planes
Bombs, warships, tanks, soldiers
no security even with nukes
What will secure you
make you safe in the night
The media Zionists tell fairy tales on Fox,
CNN, NPR and Pacifica
Even Amy Goodman is not fair
While you destroy the land of God
can the devil claim God’s land
It may take a hundred years
like the Crusaders
You shall depart one day
Not back to Europe
but some place
there you will challenge the sun
Or fight the dead moon
Somewhere is a place for you
Who claim shalom alaikum
Yet never intend to allow Palestinians
land of their own
Return of refugees
So your children pee in bed
Children of Gaza bombed death in beds, schools,
Who are these Jews
Who are not Jews
of the Synagogue of Satan?
You leave Gaza in jail
No exit no democracy
Even after their vote
If Hamas is their choice
Leave them alone
Let them build their state their way not yours
Egypt ’s Saudi Arabia ’s Jordan ’s
Maybe then rockets will be silent
Maybe then you will live in peace
Maybe then the world will not tire of you
Will accept you with love and brotherhood.
be aware the battles you win
it is not winning the war
There are powers greater than you, your guns, planes,
Nukes, lies, phony claims, fake chosen ness
To hell with your God, your holy books
Myths made in America
In the white house you rule
Made in Jewyork
Your home away from home
Past time for Palestinian State
Don’t you see the world wearing Kafiyas
Not knowing it is the scarf of suffering people
The scarf of blood and tears
Betrayed by leaders who steal and dine in Europe
Leaders who sell out to Satan in the night
While people live in refugee camps half a century
Leaders who must be lead since they are blind
Who are these Jews?
—El Muhajir (Marvin X)
Will such a poem lead us to the Truth, or just more conflict? Can it really convey the truth of Hamas or Jews or Israelis or Palestinians--a 50 year history? Maybe we need a whole slew of poems to get at the truth about just one instance of our existence. And still I feel it ends as a failed mission. Poems (words) have their limitations.
They often fail us, saying what we really wnat to say, especially those that speak to the larger conflicts of life, like racism, imperialism, capitalism, sexism, war, peace. We often cannot get enough distance to speak what our hearts really want to say. How do the "people" really know when the poem or the poet has really failed to speak to the real needs of the people?
I welcome response from other poets and writers—Rudy
The Poetic Mission
The mission of the poet is to express the mind of a people, a culture, a civilization. He extends the myths and rituals, taking them to the outer limits like a Coltrane or Eric Dolphy tune, stretching, transcending all that is, was and will be. His tool is language, from which he cannot be limited by political correction or submission to the culture police on the left or the right.
The poet is a healer in the time of sickness, inspiring wholeness and celebrating the positive. He must point out contradictions and lies. Like Oakland Tribune editor Martin Reynolds defending the bullshit Chauncey Bailey project, that collection of white supremacy journalists supposedly investigating the murder of Chauncey Bailey.
Martin spoke of the glorious task the project has undertaken, but after all these months, the CBP has yet to reveal information on the black murder squad at the Oakland Police Department. The latest revelations of police corruption do not answer the question of who killed Chauncey. We understand it took months before the CBP would consider any police misconduct in the murder investigation. While Martin applauds the work of the project, we ask him about long-time Tribune crime writer Harry Harris who, we have learned, opposed investigating his friends at the OPD. Clearly, Harry Harris has been around too long associating with the police and has thus become part of the problem, making us smell a rat running between the police and the media, Tribune and CBP included.
The poet's mission was well defined in Mao's classic essay Talks on Art and Literature at Yenen Forum. The poet is either part of the problem or part of the solution--is he with the oppressor or the oppressed? Or we can recall the words of ancestor Paul Robeson, "The artist must become a freedom fighter." For whom does he write? Does he write to satisfy Pharaoh and his minions, or is his mission to liberate the suffering masses from ignorance, although he should never consider himself superior, since the teacher always learns from his students. If he listens, the poets will come to know the pain and trauma of his people and his duty is to relieve the pain and trauma with visions, plans and programs for the collective good.
The poetic challenge is to take people to new vistas of consciousness that reveal the soul, individual and communal, which are one. Language is a communal experience that is not the property of the poet. He can add to it with his imagination, but is there imagination without myth-ritual? What is the source of imagery except the collective myth of a culture or civilization.
In time of struggle and crisis, the poet must become a propagandist who whips defeat into victory, sadness into joy. Truth is paramount--there are lives at stake, hence this is no game, no job for money, no position for public adoration, no ego trip. Call it revolution, change of the most radical form.
Martin mentioned the toll of journalists killed in the line of duty throughout the world last year. Yes, the truth is just as mighty as the sword. Men fear truth simply because it destroys lies presented by oppressors everywhere. They do not want the truthsayers around. Silence them at whatever price. Censor them. Let them starve to death as America did journalist Gary Webb or Chauncey Bailey for that matter. Chauncey was arrogant but he lived a humble life-style and he was a dedicated journalist who wrote when you observed no movement of his pen. Yes, Chauncey would interview without tape recorder or notes, but there would be a story. And he paid the ultimate price to carry out his mission. Are you poets, writers, journalists, rappers prepared to pay--or you prepared to tell the truth so help you God?
--El Muhajir (Marvin X)