Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Marvin X's Poetic Mission

Poetic Mission: A Dialogue on the Role of the Poet and Poetry

Article excerpt

Recently (24 January 2009), Marvin X, a well known writer and co-founder of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) sent out by email a provocative piece titled "Poetic Mission." On the surface the concern was the controversial investigation of the murder of the Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey. But "Poetic Mission" goes farther and makes an argument about the role of the poet and poetry.
Here are some excerpts from "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

   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

   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 publicadoration, no ego trip. Call it
   revolution, change of the most radical form. Marvin X, "Poetic
   Mission." 24 January 2009
Reading Marvin's "Poetic Mission" provoked a slew of questions, which I emailed to him and others in my address book. Poets Jerry Ward, Jr., Mary Weems, and C. Liegh McInnis (with a poem) responded. Marvin responded to a number of my questions, directly. Below I will I place them in a Q & A format. After which, I will present the other responses.
Rudy: Maybe the subject should be "poetic missions." The heart of the problem for the poet is to discover what is the Mission, isn't it, if there is such a thing?
Marvin: 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 included 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. …

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