Rudolph Lewis Replies to Marvin X’s Poetic Mission
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 want 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
Marvin X Replies to Rudolph Lewis on Poetic Mission
Maybe the subject should be "poetic missions." At the heart of the problem for poet is to discover what is the Mission, isn't it, if there is such a thing? Rudy
Everyone, whether poet, scientist, lover, street sweeper, dope fiend, must ultimately define his/her life’s mission or purpose. This is why brother Ptah suggested and I include the 13th Step in my How to Recover from the Addiction to White Supremacy.
What is the mission of the poet—words can kill or heal. Sonia Sanchez says, “Will your book free us?” Apparently not since the stores are full of black books and we still ain’t free.
The dope fiend must come to understand recovery is only a step—once clean and sober then what? Only to sit in meetings claiming sobriety while still drunk on recovery—so after recovery, then discovery of one’s mission. Remember that Nancy Wilson song, “I Never Been to Me”? So we can be poet, mother, wife, husband, yet never discover our true mission in life, and even when we discover our mission, we may be too fearful to execute it.
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? Rudy
The people are real live people who we should encounter in their/our daily round, thus we hear their cries if we listen, for they will tell us all, if we listen. It is not some echo in our head, life is beyond imagination (the poet’s sense of the people). They will tell you their joy and suffering as they have told me while I was “selling Obama T shirts. The “people” told me again and again the ritual they planned for inauguration day, they told me their joy and happiness, no matter what intellectuals think. So it is my job to express their joy in this world of sadness and dread.
It was the same with the murder of Oscar Grant. The people told me of losing their loved ones to homicide, yet received no attention because it was a black on black crime. They said even the police showed no real concern. Thus we must be guilty of selective suffering. If a white man kills us, we protest. When we kill us, nothing happens. The murderer still walks the streets and everybody knows he’s the killer, but we say nothing out of fear, so families suffer grief and trauma alone, in silence. These people are not some abstraction, some imaginary sense of the people, not his choir. The poet is either about truth or he is about lies, the choice is his.
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. Rudy
All art is exaggeration. What is music but the exaggeration of natural sounds, birds, bees, water, wind, rain, thunder. The poet often takes poetic license with events, especially for dramatic effect. The poet, the musician, the painter must decide to join the revolution, as they did during the 60s and earlier, throughout time. This is not a romantic notion. How can the conscious poet ignore the suffering of his people when he sees they are ignorant, suffering poverty and disease? The poet must decide to aid them or leave them alone and praise the king, pharaoh or whomever he decides to clown for, shuffle and dance. For thousands of years the poetic mission has been to cry for freedom and justice. We know the source of art for art’s sake—simply art of the master class, the rulers and oppressors who pass by the man on the roadside, robbed and half dead.
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?
As is well known, my style is the sledge hammer (Kalamu ya Salaam) or to write with venom (Dr. Julia Hare). The youth on the streets of Oakland who have read my books say, “You’re very blunt.” Indeed, it is a style reflecting my lifestyle (you’re too rough to be a pimp, said a prostitute).
And yet I am in awe of the feminine style. It is so gentle, subtle, smooth like a razor cutting to the heart. I am amazed at the feminine approach or style, especially in writing. But Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem was too soft for me, bored me to tears. Alice Walker’s as well. Now the poetic message from Rev. Lowery was great. It moved the soul, my soul, it had the language of the people, not that academic bullshit language of Alexander’s. See my A Day We Never Thought on the inauguration. But all these poems are a matter of style, not truth. Some like it soft, some like it hard. Some like Miller Lite, some like OLE English 800. We can get to the truth many ways, just get there.
Is poetry the same as propaganda, which some associate with out right lies and distortions? How do we reconcile the two? Rudy
All art is propaganda of one class or another, one group or another. Alexander’s poem is bourgeoisie art to me. Would I be allowed to read my poems on such an occasion? The bourgeoisie runs from me on sight, no need to say boo. Although the Oakland Post Newspaper claimed they were going to run A Day We Never Thought. I did not try to be the sledge hammer with this poem. I wanted to express the joy of the ancestors, the living and the yet unborn. Oh, Happy Day. Finally, the poet is not limited to one approach. He is able to don the feminine persona when necessary. It is his duty to know the spirit of male and female, and the non-gender of the spirit world?
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. Rudy
The mission of the Black Arts Movement was truth. There is still truth in the BAM poems, yes, forty years later. There is truth in Baraka’s Toilet, Dutchman, and the poems of Nikki and Sonia. Yes, these poets might say their poems are not relevant but they are not truthful. The Dutchman is real. “If Bessie Smith had killed some white people, she wouldn’t need to sing the blues. She could have talked very straight and plain about the world—no metaphor, no innuendo….”
And Sonia’s lines are still relevant even if she finds them distasteful, such as “What a white woman got cept her white pussy?”
Are the above words youth or truth? Of course time causes a maturation of thought. All the things I thought at twenty, some of them I no longer think, but there is still much truth in my early writings. Khalid Muhammad used to tell me to hell with my current writings, he loved my early books such as Fly To Allah and Woman, Man’s Best Friend. These are the books that awakened his consciousness, he told me more than once.
Baraka, the man who taught me how to say motherfucker, now objects to use of the term, except in a moment of passion. As for myself, all words are holy and sacred, none are obscene. What is obscene, saying motherfucker or actually fucking your mother, sister, daughter, son? There are those persons here in the Bay who object to my language, yet they have been indicted for incest and child molestation.
Simply because these/us BAM poets have reached old age does not negate the truth of our early writings. Of course the rappers took our language to another level that may indeed transcend truth for pussy and dick nonsense.
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. Rudy
My poem Who Are These Jews is basic truth. And if it’s true for me, it’s true for you. But the essence of the poem was said by Jesus 2000 years ago, John 8:44. Was Jesus lying then, am I lying now? At what point do we come out of denial and admit we got some devils up in here? Why should Hamas recognize the existence of Israel, does Israel recognize the existence of Hamas, the democratic victory of Hamas?
How do the "people" really know when the poem or the poet has really failed to speak to the real needs of the people? Rudy
Are the people deaf, dumb and blind? Have you not read a poem or book that changed your life? The people tell me all the time my writings transform their lives. Truth transforms, lies do not, not for the better. Lies lead to destruction, truth to construction of people and society.