Marvin’s last decade can be experienced vividly in the recent
collection of poems, Land of My Daughters (2005). Often dated,
these poems are strong responses to some event, some feeling,
some word that required nurturing introspection and report. And Marvin
was there ready to put his contribution on the table for consideration. . . .
Books by Marvin X
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ChickenBones Poetry Book 2005
Land of My Daughters: Poems 1995-2005
By Marvin X
Reviewed by Rudolph Lewis
Marvin X (El Muhajir) is a marvelous writer in a black skin situated in America, and proudly a Muslim in these days and times when it ain’t safe to be nowhere near or associated with Arabs and Muslims. He knows that White Supremacy is strutting mightily on the global stage, with no military and economic peer. Worst, the FBI got their bloodhounds out, kicking-in doors to save America from Muslim terrorists. So Marvin plays the odds, when the poor and weak need a voice, but mostly because like all artists he can stand momentarily outside the turmoil, challenged to take chances, just for the experiential hell of being near the fire.
For three years, in me, he has had a sympathetic observer. He is one of the most intellectually engaged black men in America making use of cyberspace to communicate nationally and internationally a unique, vital, and provocative African American perspective. His writings are at once political and personal, religious and secular, academic and street. And this integration is all done so seamlessly. As one of the proponents of the Black Arts Movement (60s and 70s), one might expect Marvin X to be rigidly ideological. Marvin X is rather a chameleon. Most of all Marvin is Marvin. But to become one’s self is no small achievement. And that’s the wonder of him as a contemporary poet.
Marvin uses the past rather than glorifying it as some romantic poets tend to do. He confronts what is now happening straight up, straight on. That is what is so delightful about Marvin, who is much freer than many of us could ever be. His was no freedom given, like Abe in ’63. Marvin’s run the gauntlet, the gamut, and came through it all like High John the Conqueror. He freed the Sisyphus, lodged in all our souls. And the rest is gravy.
He has come out the other side whole, far beyond his youthful work as a proponent of the Black Arts. He deals now with subjects other than race and race pride and race oppression. He deals with the ethics of the actual life we live moment by moment, the daily agents that confront you daily for food clothing shelter and a bit of joy. He has lived the horrors of America and filters all through the harshness and victory of that world he has lived as both a man and a Muslim. .
There’s no sugar coating deception in Marvin’s writings. Expect to get it the way it happens, get it like you would from an Uncle or an Aunt. The real deal, the low down, the mamma-jamma. His vision is as diamond hard as the gunpowder night streets he frequents and the street people he saves from a life of drugs, prostitution, and criminality. He sympathizes with the outsider, the down and out, because he’s been there, and knows everybody needs a chance and a little love and understanding.
Marvin’s last decade can be experienced vividly in the recent collection of poems, Land of My Daughters (2005). Often dated, these poems are strong responses to some event, some feeling, some word that required nurturing introspection and report. And Marvin was there ready to put his contribution on the table for consideration. Many of the poems in this volume are already familiar; Marvin shares his poems and his essays with those on his email list and those on Kalamu’s e-drum. Because Marvin be writing because he be on the case every day dealing with local, national, and international events trying to make sense out of a world being reshaped disastrously by Democrats and Republicans.
In any event, there ain’t no poem that ain’t special in Land of My Daughters. Because that’s how Marvin loves his people, every individual as if she the One. A poem unfamiliar “Why I Love Lesbians” is a controversial poem of such simplicity and honesty — it is disarming. Marvin says, “I love them cause they hate me / In their hatred is drama / . . . / They step backward / At my manly aggression.”
Marvin bees the man (“arrogant masculinity”) he been trained to be. But the times have changed; Cleaver the Id (Super Gun) is dead. And Marvin is Man Plus: “But I wouldn’t take the pussy / Have become wiser / In old age.” Marvin, sixty years old, is still adapting to his environment (like a Green Beret) yet retaining his own integrity and worth. Violence solves nothing. He now believes in the power of the word, to transform the thinking, change the training not only of others but himself (the poet) as well.
This gender reorientation and realistic appraisal of women is also mirrored in the popular How to Love a Thinking Woman. Get me right, Marvin ain’t gone soft or nothing, just “wiser.” And it’s good advice to listen to those who have gotten their ass whipped over foolishness, those who have traveled the trail we now trying to traverse. So a “Thinking Woman” is about more than women: it is about how to be a man in contemporary times:
Make her laugh til she comes in panties With serious jokes to get her mind off the world Never let her figure you out Be always a mystery When she figures you out you’re through Don’t be that dumb
Giving the Other what she wants or thinks she wants is not enough. There is more to man than just repressive patriarchy and violence. A manly identity is not all that needs or solicits hatred. Viva la difference. There’s a sacred place man and woman can meet beyond yesterday’s crimes.
Marvin has a few dedicated poems of those who have come and stood on the world stage and made their notable contributions to the struggle: for the Barakas on the loss of their daughter (When Parents Bury Children and “Remembering Shani Barka”); Eldridge Cleaver (“Soul Gone Home”); Stokely Carmichael (“For Kwame Touré”); Lil Joe (“Revolutionary Rain”); Dudley Randall (“Black Man Listen”); and Sherley A. Williams (“Two Poets in the Park”).
Sherley was the girl that got away, the girl his Mama told him he “ought / to marry” and didn’t — “a bad relationship was better than no relationship.” So there they were “sitting in the park after 17 years of silence . . . now there is only one.” It is a poem of love without sentimentality.
Marvin, I believe, has integrated Islam into his sensibility and thinking and it has provided him a certain mental discipline which in turn is reflected in his poems. “I Am” is such a philosophical poem, and Marvin concludes “If you are the best / pass and go.” “The Devil Stole My Children,” a poem of loss, might draw on some Islamic folktale. I’m uncertain what Jerusalem and Damascus symbolize in this landscape. I suspect Christianity, or, at least, a certain form of commercial Christianity. It’s not unusual for Marvin to take swipes at Christianity in the Malcolm tradition, which is done very openly in the poem “Jesus and Liquor Stores”: “JESUS / CAN’T HELP YOU / COULDN’T HELP HIMSELF.”
This rough kind of humor, primarily mockery and sarcasm, this putting to shame approach can be found in “The Negro Knows Everything.” But I like Marvin’s humor. He’s persuaded me that we should take ourselves so less seriously in that stiff ass way of being unable to learn to laugh at ourselves again: “On her dying bed, my Mama said, / ‘Marvin, leave then nigguhs alone. . .’ ” And, of course, one cannot leave one’s self alone “And Mama died and I love dem nigguhs.” Here’s a poet committed to his people despite their weaknesses and evils or rather, in a way, because they have them.
Doubtless, Marvin X is a revolutionary poet. In these days and times of the Repression of the Poor, the era in which every dime is contested, and corporations have the executive key to our lives, how can one be anything else but? “Yesterday, more than 20,000 people perished of extreme poverty.” And we suspect the same to happen tomorrow as far as we can see. That kind of action will make even the dullest think there is something amiss. That we are not getting “all of the news.”
And here is where we need the most skillful of poets, to fill in the gaps, to show us what really has value, in a world in which human life is being steadily eroded to objects (resources) for profit, and endless money making. In his “Poetics 2000,” an update of Amiri Baraka’s Black Art, poems don’t kill. “Poetry will raise the dead / Make Lazarus stand.” The poet must struggle against opportunist rhetoric and “Speak straight and plain about the world / Like Clay in Dutchman.”
“Joy” and “You Are Spirit” are just delightful. For Marvin the spirit or soul of man is reflected in how he uses and to what purpose he delivers his body to man or woman. He believes that right love can transform lust into love, into meaning, and purpose. But there is lots more to sink your teeth into like “Terrorist” and “Poem for 9/11/03.” If you want serious artistic writing, a bit of comfort in the evening by the fireplace, Land of My Daughters will make you feel alive and whole again.
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Land of My Daughters: Poems 1995-2005
By Marvin X
In the Name of Love
How to Love a Thinking Woman
When Parents Bury Children
I Am That One
Black Woman Let Me Look into Your Soul
When Spring Came to Brooklyn
Winter in the Valley
When Joy Came
Soul Gone Home
Three Thousand Years of Chinese History
In the Land of My Daughters
My Son Walks in Silence
Blues for Marsha
Why I Love Lesbians
We Are the 60s
Date with My Son
Black Man Listen
When I’ll Wave the Flag
When I Wave the Flag (Spanish translation)
Marry a Tree
Let’s Get Back to Normal
You Are Spirit
The Devil Stole My Children
Jesus and Liquor Stores
Never Love a Poet
Reparations, A Birthday Poem
The Negro Knows Everything
There Is Silence in the Hills
What Is Love
When a Man Went to Heaven on Earth
Watching Them Watching Me
April, Month of Blood
Poem for 9/11/03
Reply to Bush at United Nations
For Our Elders
Remembering Shani Baraka
Two Poets in Central Park
Mother Betty Shabazz
Can You Change
Land of My Daughters available from Black Bird Press, 11132 Nelson Bar Road, Cherokee CA 95965, 19.95. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Marvin X: In the Land of My Daughters. Marvin X enjoys a reunion with his three daughters at Oakland’s Lake Merritt on Saturday, July 22, 2012. They all hadn’t been together in 30 years. When they were eight, nine and ten, they helped grade his English composition papers while he taught at Kings River College, Reedley CA, 1981. Left to right, Amira Jackmon, Esq., (Graduate Yale and Stanford Law School); Nefertiti Jackmon, M.A., Africana Studies, New York University, Albany, B.A., Fresno State University; Muhammida El Muhajir, B.S. Microbiology, Howard University. Photo Gene Hazzard25 July 2012
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By Nnedi Okorafor
Well-known for young adult novels (The Shadow Speaks; Zahrah the Windseeker), Okorafor sets this emotionally fraught tale in post apocalyptic Saharan Africa. The young sorceress Onyesonwuwhose name means Who fears death?was born Ewu, bearing a mixture of her mother’s features and those of the man who raped her mother and left her for dead in the desert. As Onyesonwu grows into her powers, it becomes clear that her fate is mingled with the fate of her people, the oppressed Okeke, and that to achieve her destiny, she must die. Okorafor examines a host of evils in her chillingly realistic talegender and racial inequality share top billing, along with female genital mutilation and complacency in the face of destructive traditionand winds these disparate concepts together into a fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling
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By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to acceptor at least endurethe universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the books first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. The Bodys Question (2003) was her first published collection.
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.
Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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By Gil Scott Heron
Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King’s birthday ended up becoming a national holiday (“The Last Holiday because America can’t afford to have another national holiday”), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Jamie Byng, Guardian
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By Rick Stengel
Richard Stengel, the editor of Time magazine, has distilled countless hours of intimate conversation with Mandela into fifteen essential life lessons. For nearly three years, including the critical period when Mandela moved South Africa toward the first democratic elections in its history, Stengel collaborated with Mandela on his autobiography and traveled with him everywhere. Eating with him, watching him campaign, hearing him think out loud, Stengel came to know all the different sides of this complex man and became a cherished friend and colleague. In Mandelas Way, Stengel recounts the moments in which the grandfather of South Africa was tested and shares the wisdom he learned: why courage is more than the absence of fear, why we should keep our rivals close, why the answer is not always either/or but often both, how important it is for each of us to find something away from the world that gives us pleasure and satisfactionour own garden.
Woven into these life lessons are remarkable storiesof Mandelas childhood as the protégé of a tribal king, of his early days as a freedom fighter, of the twenty-seven-year imprisonment that could not break him, and of his new and fulfilling marriage at the age of eighty.
update 5 July 2012