Wednesday, August 28, 2013

From the Archives: Marvin X--the USA's Rumi

photo Doug Harris, Harlem, NY 1968

Fly to Allah by Marvin X, is more than poetry--it is singing/song, it is meditation, it is 
spirit/flowing/flying, it is blackness celebrated, it is prophecy, it is life, is all of these things and 
more, beyond articulation. Brother Marvin X is flying us/our/selves to Allah. And his strength is 
not merely aesthetic....--Johari Amini, Negro Digest/Black World, 1969

(Her complete review is below)

Land of My Daughters

Review by Bob Holman
Bowery Poetry Club, New York City

Last year Marvin X released his magnum opus, Land of My Daughters: Poems 1995-2005 (Black Bird Press), poems that put me in mind of Mawlânâ Jalâl ad-Dîn Muhammad Rûmî....--Bob Holman

Where I’d like to start this 2005 Poetry Roundup is Iraq, as in, how did we get there and how do we get back? The consciousness-altering book of poems that tells the tale, in no uncertain terms and yet always via poetry, is the astonishing Land of My Daughters: Poems 1995-2005 (Black Bird Press) by Marvin X.

Marvin X is the USA’s Rumi, and his nation is not “where our fathers died” but where our daughters live. The death of patriarchal war culture is his everyday reality. X’s poems vibrate, whip, love in the most meta- and physical ways imaginable and un-. He’s got the humor of Pietri, the politics of Baraka, and the spiritual Muslim grounding that is totally new in English –- the ecstasy of Hafiz, the wisdom of Saadi. It’s not unusual for him to have a sequence of shortish lines followed by a culminating line that stretches a quarter page –- it is the dance of the dervishes, the rhythms of a Qasida.
“I am the black bird in love
I fly with love
I swoop into the ocean and pluck fish in the name of love
oceans flow with love
let the ocean wash me with love
even the cold ocean is love
the morning swim is love
the ocean chills me with love
from the deep come fish full of love”
(from the opening poem, “In the Name of Love”)

“How to Love A Thinking Woman”:
“Be revolutionary, radical, bodacious
Stay beyond the common
Have some class about yaself…
Say things she’s never heard before
Ihdina sirata al mustaquim(guide us on the straight path)
Make her laugh til she comes in her panties
serious jokes to get her mind off the world.”

There are anthems (“When I’ll Wave the Flag/Cuando Voy a Flamear la Bandera”), rants (“JESUS AND LIQUOR STORES”), love poems (“Thursday”) and poems totally uncategorizable (“Dreamtime”). Read this one cover to cover when you’ve got the time to “Marry a Tree.”

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." 

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."

Here's a poet committed to his people despite their weaknesses and evils or rather, in a way, because they have them.

"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.

*   *   *   *   *

Love and War


by Marvin X

review by Mohja Kahf

Have spent the last few days (when not mourning with friends and family the passing of my family friend and mentor in Muslim feminism and Islamic work, Sharifa AlKhateeb, (may she dwell in Rahma), immersed in the work of Marvin X and amazed at his brilliance. This poet has been prolific since his first book of poems, Fly to Allah, (1969), right up to his most recent Love and War Poems (1995) and Land of My Daughters, 2005, not to mention his plays, which were produced (without royalties) in Black community theatres from the 1960s to the present, and essay collections such as In the Crazy House Called America, 2002, and Wish I Could Tell You The Truth, 2005.

Marvin X was a prime shaper of the Black Arts Movement (1964-1970s) which is, among other things, the birthplace of modern Muslim American literature, and it begins with him. Well, Malik Shabazz and him. But while the Autobiography of Malcolm X is a touchstone of Muslim American culture, Marvin X and other Muslims in BAM were the emergence of a cultural expression of Black Power and Muslim thought inspired by Malcolm, who was, of course, ignited by the teachings and writings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And that, taken all together, is what I see as the starting point of Muslim American literature. 

With respect to Marvin X, I wonder why I am just now hearing about him-I read Malcolm when I was 12, I read Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez and others from the BAM in college and graduate school-why is attention not given to his work in the same places I encountered these other authors? Declaring Muslim American literature as a field of study is valuable because recontextualizing it will add another layer of attention to his incredibly rich body of work.He deserves to be WAY better known than he is among Muslim Americans and generally, in the world of writing and the world at large. By we who are younger Muslim American poets, in particular, Marvin should be honored as our elder, one who is still kickin, still true to the word!

Love and War Poems is wrenching and powerful, combining a powerful critique of America ("America downsizes like a cripple whore/won't retire/too greedy to sleep/too fat to rest") but also a critique of deadbeat dads and drug addicts (not sparing himself) and men who hate. "For the Men" is so Quranic poem it gave me chills with verses such as:

for the men who honor wives and the men who abuse them

for the men who win and the men who sin

for the men who love God and the men who hate

for the men who are brothers and the men who are beasts....

"O Men, listen to the wise," the poet pleads: there is no escape for the men of this world or the men of the next.

He is sexist as all get out, in the way that is common for men of his generation and his radicalism, but he is refreshingly aware of that and working on it. It's just that the work isn't done and if that offends you to see a man in process and still using the 'b' word, look out. Speaking of the easily offended, he warns in his introduction that "life is often profane and obscene, such as the present condition of African American people." If you want pure and holy, he says, read the Quran and the Bible, because Marvin is talking about "the low down dirty truth." For all that, the poetry of Marvin X is like prayer, beauty-full of reverence and honor for Truth. "It is. it is. it is."

A poem to his daughter Muhammida is a sweet mix of parental love and pride and fatherly freak-out at her sexuality and independence, ending humbly with: peace Mu it's on you yo world sister-girl.

Other people don't get off so easy, including a certain "black joint chief of staff ass nigguh (kill 200,000 Muslims in Iraq)" in the sharply aimed poem "Free Me from My Freedom." (Mmm hmm, the 'n' word is all over the place in Marvin too.) Nature poem, wedding poem, depression poem, wake-up call poems, it's all here. Haiti, Rwanda, the Million Man March, Betsy Ross's maid, OJ, Rabin, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and other topics make it into this prophetically voiced collection of dissent poetry, so Islamic and so African American in its language and its themes, a book that will stand in its beauty long after the people mentioned in it pass. READ MARVIN X for RAMADAN!

Mohja Kahf

Associate Professor

Dept. of English & Middle East & Islamic Studies

University of Arkansas-Fayetteville

Fly to Allah

Review by Johari Amina

Fly to Allah, 1968, established Marvin X as one of the key poets of the Black Arts Movement 
and the father of Muslim American literature. See Dr. Mohja Kahf on Muslim American literature.
In the September, 1969, Negro Digest/Black World magazine, Chicago poet Johari Amimi reviewed 
Fly to Allah. 

Fly to Allah by Marvin X, is more than poetry--it is singing/song, it is meditation, it is 
spirit/flowing/flying, it is blackness celebrated, it is prophecy, it is life, is all of these things and 
more, beyond articulation. Brother Marvin X is flying us/our/selves to Allah.
And his strength is not merely aesthetic

who killed uncle tom
who killed uncle sam
Fly to Him
If you are from Him

Do not beat your woman
Love her!
She will leave you
If you beat her
She will leave you
If you do not beat her
Guard against her
she is weak
by nature
Protect her
Elevate her
Fly with her to Allah
You will be successful
You will dance forever
in the here/after
on earth
behind drummers
who never stop....

but in the many positives we blkpeople need in order to be to build ourselves 
(which precludes 
building a nation). Things we really need

For the moon submits
to the morning sun
where are you
in the circle of time
dry your eyes
sweet woman
let me rock your soul
with my Father's hands
I will not be here long.

...We are gods
black and beautiful we are
sailing through space/time
to a higher place
mountains/cities fall
as we march
into another world
much blacker than this....

There is more beauty here than should be spoken of in a review. Fly to Allah should be read & 
read & read & meditated upon & reread & reread &.... Thank you, Brother Marvin, 
for your gift to blkpeople....

...Farewell Harlem
Mecca of the west
Though saddened
I am moved
I smile within
I see my children
and I am a child
rising/taking control
and I am moved
to be here
a star
in Allah's heaven
Wa rah-matu-llahi
Wa barakatuh.
--Johari Amini (Jewel C. Latimore)
Negro Digest, September, 1969

During 1968-69, Marvin X lived underground in Harlem, resisting the Vietnam war. He worked at the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, serving as associate editor of Black Theatre magazine. His Harlem associates included Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Don L. Lee, Sun Ra, Askia Toure, Milford Graves, Mae Jackson, Barbara Ann Teer. Ed Bullins was his host, along with the NLT family. He also associated with Minister Farakhan 
and Akbar Muhammad at Mosque #7.

Beyond Religion, toward Spirituality
by Marvin X

Review by Bob Holman

Last year Marvin X released his magnum opus, Land of My Daughters: Poems 1995-2005 (Black Bird Press), poems that put me in mind of Mawlânâ Jalâl ad-Dîn Muhammad Rûmî. He just published Beyond Religion Towards Spirituality, Essays on Consciousness (Black Bird Press, 2006), and all I can say, folks, is this is the Bible of the Hood and is bound to stir up plenty of opposition -- and maybe even cut through the BS to move towards God. “Imagine we are the generation of Parker, Coltrane, Dolphy, Monk, Duke, Bessie, Lady Day, Ella, Sarah, what on earth can follow us but the earth shaking children of tomorrow...­ who will smash the atmosphere with sounds...”

“If the mate leaves, we should be happy. Why would you want to keep someone who wants to go? If she wants to be with Joe, let her go -- you don’t own her. If she wants, she has the human right to give Joe some pussy. I know you don’t like it but get over it. Don’t kill her and Joe behind the funk. The world is full of infinite possibilities. God will provide wou with the perfect mate... Let go and Let God.”

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