Foreword: Sweet Tea/Dirty Rice, New and Selected Poems by Marvin X
I have known Marvin X for decades. We go back to “In the Name of Love”( a poetic drama, Laney College Theatre, 1981) when he taught theatre at Laney, and we go forward in the name of love. He is my teacher. A teacher expands a student’s world, offers them a foundation to grow on or to push against. It is the duty of a student to learn, to comprehend and overstand the journey of the teacher.
A teacher can open doors, mentor and launch you into the world of creativity to carve your own path. It is an artist's dream to be a part of the inner-circle of those whose work you admire most. I find myself at the table with my betters because Marvin X cleared a place for me. Through Marvin I have met some of the greatest North American African creators of this or any other time. I have sat with him exchanging ideas with Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Ed Bullins, Eugene Redmond, Ishmael Reed, Askia Toure and other artistic intellectuals and freedom fighters. For that I am eternally grateful and indebted to pay it forward and hold high the banner of BAM that gave movement to the world as my standard.
It is my great honor to offer this foreword to his latest collection of poetry, Sweet Tea/Dirty Rice. The book is delicious, the work superior, and the writer at the top of his poetic form. Sweet Tea/Dirty Rice is raw, beautiful, painful, low-down, funky and uplifting: like hearing Nat Turner has risen.
Marvin X is the West Coast (actually bi-coastal) Black Arts Movement Impresario. He is credited with being the father of Muslim American Literature. He is an icon of the Black Arts Movement, whose ever growing body of work, belies the end of the most prolific era in American Literature. X is one of our living depository on the history of the Black Arts Movement. He should be recognized as one of the most accessible public intellectuals, noted for his Plato like open air class rooms called Academy of da Corner at 14th and Broadway, Lakeshore Avenue,Oakland, and the ASHBY Flea Market, Berkeley. But he sets up his Academy of da Corner coast to coast. A young brother from Oakland was shocked to see the poet on the streets of Philadelphia. Before setting up shop in Brooklyn, he got permission from the numbers runners on the corner.
The style may be reminiscent of Plato, but as Ishmael Reed notes in his review The Sayings of Plato Negro, there is distinct Yoruba flavor to X’s work. He has been called the Rumi of the USA, compared to Hafiz and Saadi, but at the end of the day he is himself, a collection of fine points, bright light and wisdom gleaned from a full life. His philosophy of love, truth and funk, has made its way into the world view of many travelers looking for signs of life, proof of humanity, and a reason to carry on in times that try the soul.
I am John Coltrane, a soaring manifesto and a fitting frame for the sublimity of what follows. Christian Terrorist, an example of the low down dirty truth promised here; it, like other poems, scrapes you bare, leaving only the essential right and wrong to deal with.
Marvin X is lover, assassin, terrorist and shaman, shining in his divinity and profoundly common, he is with his genius, and his genius is awake and slaying what you thought poetry could do. This is poetry for the struggle of finding your humanity, poetry to go to war with, poetry to love by. Marvin is a poet who writes with his own blood, shares his dark truth and spiritual enlightenment.
Often he is the Master teaching what he himself needs to overstand, sometimes he is the pilgrim dragging us where we have not quite dared to venture, mostly he is a humanist in deep reflection on the experience of being human. Don’t read these poems if you don’t want to be saved because you might catch the holy ghost by accident. The poet has often said if he were a Christian, he would be a member of the Church of God in Christ or COGIC. He married and/or partnered spirit filled women, some from COGIC. There are ample love poems to and about these women in Sweet Tea/Dirty Rice.
His favorite song is Nature Boy, "The greatest thing you will ever learn is to love and be loved in return...."
Don’t read these poems for comfort because some of them will terrify you. Read these poems if your soul is hungry and you need sustenance. Read these poems if you are terrified of the dark, for they will comfort you with their black heartened illumination of real life with its funk and glory behind ‘the black wall’.
Read these poems if you are black and bruised; this is a love song for you. If you don’t know, I will tell you, Marvin X loves Nigguhs. That comes across in his work: a love song for his Nigguhs, my Niggas, them niggers, and the Negroes among us. It is a conversation for us, about us, but I don’t think he cares if others listen. His mother, may she rest in peace, tried to release him of the burden of loving Black folks, but to our great benefit he ignored her. He writes about that conversation in The Negro Knows Everything, "Marvin, leave dem Nigguh's alone!..." She also told him, "You don't need dem Nigguhs, Marvin, dem Nigguhs need you. They just using you! Use the mind God gave you and leave dem Nigguhs alone!" That’s a Marvin thing, if you manage to get his attention and you tell him something, it may well end up in a book. Nothing is safe, nothing is too sacred, and nothing too profane for Marvin’s pen. Dr. Julia Hare said, "He writes with venom in his pen. If there was ink in his pen, one could recover, but you cannot recover from the venom!" She also said, "When he calls you to do something or jump, you can only say how high? It's like God calling!"
Marvin has poured himself into Sweet Tea/Dirty Rice and distilled it into a love song for his people. Marvin is in love with love and I am in love with Sweet Tea/ Dirty Rice. It is a collection of the best of X spanning earlier collections and riveting new work. Marvin has been declared the finest of modern revolutionary writers by the most revolutionary writer, scholar/poet of our time, Amiri Baraka.
I call him my teacher, mentor, Baba. He watered me when life was a desert and the gift of my art could have turned to chafe. He gave me the gift of choosing to become a North American African, a divining rod under which I have come to understand us, a new tribe here in the belly of the beast, with a mishmash of customs gleaned from throughout the Diaspora, made whole cloth in the wilderness of North America, forming the foundation on which we stand.
Marvin stands on that foundation and urges us to see clearly, love as if our existence depended upon it, and reach towards the firmament of American Africanness to organize the stars in the black space above and around us. That is a call for expanded consciousness to those who can hear and follow – space is the place. He, following Sun Ra, transcends some of the shackles that bind us collectively. He often tells me he is bored to tears here and awaits a bigger adventure. I am grateful he is still here and that his gift is as sharp as an old school Harlem hustler’s double edge razor, the kind that cuts both ways. His work cuts both ways extolling us to a higher self by addressing our ignorance. He has been instructive in both his positive contribution of his best mind, in his unparalleled honesty about his own dark spaces, the embodiment of his flaws, and his unending reach for his higher self amid the funk of this life.
Sweet Tea/Dirty Rice
New and Selected Poems
Sweet Tea/Dirty Rice is raw, beautiful, painful, low-down and funky, uplifting like hearing Nat Turner has risen.--from the introduction, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, BAM Oakland, founder, Lower Bottom Playaz
He has always been in the forefront of Pan African writing. Indeed, he is one of the founders and innovators of the revolutionary school of African writing.
Marvin X is the USA’s Rumi...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.
--Bob Holman, Bowery Poetry Club, New York City
His love poems will resound as long and as deeply as any love poems ever written by anyone: Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou.
...This 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, it is all of these things and more, beyond articulation....
--Johari Amini (Jewel C. Lattimore)
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!
--Dr. Mohja Kahf, Professor of English and Islamic Literature, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
When you listen to Tupac Shakur, E-40, Too Short, Master P or any other rappers out of the Bay Area of Cali, think of Marvin X. He laid the foundation and gave us the language to express Black male urban experiences in a lyrical way.--James G. Spady, Philadelphia New Observer Newspaper
Oh, Mighty Kora
Again the Kora
Don't ask, don't take
Something is Goin on up in here
Post Black Negro
And We Wonder
And then there are Angels
Dream Time 2
I Am John Coltrane
If I Were A Muslim In Good Standing
In the Temple of X
There Was an Island
A Street Named Rashidah Muhammad (Dessie X)
Poem for Clara Muhammad
Bank the Bankers
Don't dream bout ma man
Ah, air so fresh
I Am a Revolutionary
Do you want to see me tomorrow
Can you feel the spirit
My people were never slaves
Poem #3 for R
Poem #2 for R
O, Malcolm X
Fathers sing blues too
To Egypt with Love
Letter to my grandson, Jahmeel
Don't Say Pussy
Too Funky in Here
Same Lover/Different Name
Apology to my higher self
Let a Million Men March
Two Poets in the Park
Rain in the Valley
Testimony, A Love Song
Moment in Paradise
How to love a thinking woman
How to love a thinking man or Never Love A Poet
Remember Shani Baraka
When Parents Bury Children
In the Name of Love