october 2004

: Review: Invisible Chains by Colored Ink at the BravaTheatre, San Francisco

by Marvin X

On Saturday of this Labor Day weekend, I attended Colored Ink's roduction of the poetic drama Invisible Chains. After spending all day selling my books at Oakland's Soulfest, by the time I got to San Francisco's Brava theatre in the Mission, I was exhausted, especially from being in the sun. The
show began at the usual hip hop hour of 9PM, and after meeting the director, Javier, I would appear near the end of the program as a speaker. Although I really wanted to go home, I stayed, since I had promised Javier I would attend.
Around 9 the poetic drama began with the sound of a beautiful female voice and guitar, although it was impossible to see the singer because she was off stage. I started to stand up so I could see where this beautiful voice was located. I was disturbed that the entire audience could not see
the singer.  The lights fade, then up on a Latina bemoaning her invisible chain of needing a man
to give meaning to her life and personality as a woman. Almost from the beginning she was in tears about this, trying to convince us this was a most terrible societal crime, a disgusting notion, which it is. After all, men and women must first be in harmony with themselves before they can be with someone else.

Next came a forty something white boy joined by a Latino rapping in rhyme on the invisible chain of weed smoking. The presentation of this subject reminded me of my own Recovery Theatre, except for the white boy's rhyme's that were totally disgusting, actually comical which had to be the
intent, as if to impress the audience that he was indeed the original rhymer, better than Shakespeare or anyone, better than, as he told me later, the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an. I couldn't understand by play's end why this white man had become the dominant character. American theatre is full of tired white man and boys, so why must Colored Ink give prime time to such a disgusting, paternalistic rhyme "master." Who wants to hear anything a white man has to say in 2004, especially if he isn't to the left Michael Moore? The guy had talent, as I told him later, but it wasn't rhyming, so maybe this is part of the reason the lady next to me later told the audience while I was speaking that I fell asleep several times sitting next to her and this was the worse thing a person could do, especially an artist

A female African American came on stage drinking alcohol and smoking. Before the play began, I had noticed several people standing outside the theatre smoking cigarettes, including the lady seated next to me. I wondered if these young people knew smoking was a danger to one's health. We learn drinking and smoking were also invisible chains, caused by parental abandonment. I was getting upset. The white by rhyme master was across the line, now comes the abandoned child poet, so prevalent in hip hop poetic circles that I'm beginning to think neglected children are using poetry as a way to a performance career, thus they have no intention of writing about reconciliation and unconditional love as their hero and savior Tupac did so eloquently in his classic rap "Dear Mama."

I probably nodded off as the poet cried about her no good daddy and dope fiend mama. I wondered why the hip hop children think after centuries of oppression and absent revolution, they are entitled to healthy, stable, loving families. My attitude as an abandoned child and as an absent father myself, get over it, be thankful for what you get in this fleeting moment called life. We're not entitled and certainly not guaranteed anything, especially a totally loving and supportive father and/or mother. Perhaps revolution will bring this about but don't hold your breath.

A white girl blessed the hot studio theatre with a breath of cool air when she came on stage in a non rhyming monologue about being a white girl, how disgusting she found white culture and how refreshing it was to be among the native people of the world who were full of soul, energy and vitality.

Another poet told us about Whackass poets who are afraid of revolution and use poetry to get some pussy or dick or maybe to become famous but serious poetry is not their intent. Sounds like this young man has read my Manifesto of the University of Poetry (available on several Internet sites, including or search Google)

Two poets from Sacramento spit rhymes, Malik and a sister whose name I didn't get but she had a beautiful singing voice as revealed in her rendition of Strange Fruit. Malik is symptomatic of many hip hop poets and rappers who have appeared in theatre without having knowledge of the person
known as Director. A director could be very helpful in hip hop theatre. The director would teach
the poet how to pronounce words, enunciate clearly rather than mumble under one's breath, thus totally incomprehensible to the audience. The Director would help the hip hop poet with staging and movement rather than those guerilla strides across stage so classic among rappers.

Well, it was time for me to speak. Javier gave me an introduction that wasn't an introduction because hip hop needs no introduction, I presume. I asked the audience if they had heard of Marvin X, most of them hadn't. I didn't find this surprising. After promoting my books this weekend  at Oakland's Soulfest, I discovered that although I've spent forty years in the Black
Arts Movement, the majority of blacks have never heard of me, although many whites let me know
they had. Actually, I am happy about this because it is probably the reason I'm still alive.

Maybe it was a little overkill, but I had to dismiss the white boy in his role as rhyme "master." "Take that shit and throw it in the bay," I said. Of course the multiculturals rose to his defense, how dare I attack the white man, God in person. I was heckled by what sounded like black women,
who else can better defend the white man, see Condi Rice. Of course Colin Powell does a great job as well. I noted the invisible chain I observed was this obsessive need to rhyme. What does rhyme have to do with poetry, I asked. Was it the essence of poetry. Where did they get this idea?
Not from the Black Arts Movement, not from Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Marvin X, Haki Madhubuti, where, maybe the Last Poets. I agreed with the Ntozake Shange, "I ain't into that rhyming stuff, that stuff ain't freedom. I'm about freedom." Of course the audience and the poets didn't what to hear any of this, after all, they are rhyming babies and must have their milk. And then I spoke about their poems of parental hate--and by this time they were ready to attack me, but I persisted. I said, "If your poem don't make yo mama wanna beat yo ass, yo poem ain't shit." But finally, in agreement with the poet who recited Whackass Poets, I said poetry must be about revolution, unity, reconciliation, love, otherwise poetry is the new ho for the poetry pimps. In
short, Invisible Chains can use more work, less rhyme, and please get that white man behind stage, although his poem about red necks wasn't too bad.
        A demand for the Expression of ALL Points-Of-View
        emanating from Africans at Home and Abroad

Marvin X, formerly known as Marvin Jackmon and El Muhajir was born in 1944 in California. Marvin X is well known for his work as a poet, playwright and essayist of the BAM. He received his BA and MA in English from San Francisco State University. During the 1960s, Marvin X became involved with Elijah Muhammad and the Black Muslims. He has also written under the name Nazzam al Fitnah Muhajir.

Marvin X is most well known for his work with Ed Bullins in the founding of Oakland, California based Black House and The Black Arts/West Theatre in San Francisco. Black House served briefly as the headquarters for the Black Panther Party and as a center for performance and theatre, poetry and music.

Marvin X is a playwright in the true spirit of the BAM. His most well-known BAM play, entitled Flowers for the Trashman, deals with generational difficulties and the crisis of the Black intellectual as he deals with education in a white-controlled culture. Marvin X's other works include, The Black Bird, The Trial, Resurrection of the Dead and In the Name of Love. Marvin X has continued work as a lecturer, teacher and producer.