“One may be a poet without versing, and a versifier without poetry.”
- Sir Philip Sidney
Many would not refer to Marcus Garvey as a poet. Many do not even know that Garvey wrote poems; but he did. He used his poetry as a means to spread and promote his ideas, to document his struggles and to express his private emotions. While Garvey had been writing for a long time, it was not until he was an inmate in the Atlanta prison between 1925 and 1927 that he took on writing poetry seriously. His works were published mainly in his publications, Negro World and Black Man between 1927 and 1935.
Whilst he himself questioned whether or not his poetical efforts were comparable to “real” poetry, his followers held his poetry in high esteem. In fact, many sought to follow in his footsteps and wrote poems too. Tony Martin, Garvey scholar, explained that “The writing of poetry was little short of an obsession with Garveyites. Everybody did it.” Many of the poems written by Garveyites were published in the Negro World. Eventually, poetry became a regular feature in the newspaper.
Most of Garvey’s early poems were collated and published in two volumes by his wife, Amy Jacques Garvey. These publications were, The Tragedy of White Injustice and Selections from the Poetic Meditations of Marcus Garvey. The former got its name from a 70-verse poem written by Garvey which was described as “An Epic of Rare Beauty, with an Historical Theme”. The remaining poems in that first volume are Hail! United States of Africa! and Africa for the Africans.The second volume comprised poems of various themes. Some were autobiographical, such as The Start and My Trip to the West Indies. Other themes portrayed included, Religion, Family, Race and Politics.
Marcus Garvey was truly a renaissance man. He was not only a formidable political figure but was also an earnest cultural individual. He was unique in how he conveyed his philosophies and ideologies and poetry was one of the media he chose to do this. His poetry have proven to be of great importance to Garveyites and even now, for those who are aware of these works, there is still a sense of appreciation for the work of this prolific thinker.
Tony Martin wrote two books which focused on Garvey’s poetry and other literary skills. So, for further reading, try and get a copy of The Poetical Works of Marcus Garvey or Literary Garveyism: Garvey, Black Arts and the Harlem Renaissance.