By Amanda M. Socci
Alexandria, VA – What is poetry? Depending on who you ask, you may get vastly different answers. In school, we are taught that poems are mostly written in rhyme. Real-life poetry outside of school, however, is a different species altogether.
The masters of real-life poetry are our own poet laureate KaNikki Jakarta and her husband Marquis Mix, who identifies professionally as 13 of Nazareth. Jakarta and Mix are working poets with radically different styles.
In April 2019, KaNikki Jakarta became Alexandria’s new poet laureate. She says her love of poetry was instilled in her from the womb, as her mother read Nikki Giovanni’s poetry and her father loved Maya Angelou and Dr. Seuss’s poetry.
Attending a Christian school in Alabama, Jakarta received an introduction to poetry slams in third grade, although at that level they were really poetry contests. She recited poetry in front of her classmates and began winning the contests.
Jakarta recalls writing poetry in fourth grade and picking it back up in her college years. But she didn’t do anything formal with her poetry until 1997, when she saw the movie Love Jones, about a young black poet in Chicago. Seeing people in the movie perform poetry in front of an audience made KaNikki think seriously about doing it herself.
Jakarta moved to Alexandria in 2000. Two years later she was in Virginia Beach promoting a poetry reading and met her husband-to-be, Marquis Mix, who was getting ready to perform.
For the next 17 years, Jakarta slowly progressed toward a lifestyle concentrating on poetry. She published her first poetry chapbook in 2000 and created a publishing company, Great Publishing Co., LLC in 2002. To date, she has added three works of fiction, a memoir, and a collection of poetry to earlier publications.
After being named Alexandria’s poet laureate, KaNikki paused to reflect. “I don’t know what I did to stand out,” she says. “I heard my poem was great [and the reviewing panel loved it…].” But not wasting any time, she began offering writers’ workshops and hosting poetry nights at Busboys and Poets restaurant in Arlington.
Of course, this is only a fraction of Jakarta’s influence in her comprehensive world of poetry. For a more complete picture, visit http://kanikkij.com/ or see her live at one of her many scheduled writing or poetry events.
At the other end of the poetry spectrum is Jakarta’s husband, Marquis Mix, whose official poetry name is 13 of Nazareth. Mix’s personality is more quiet and pensive than Jakarta’s outgoing demeanor.
Marquis Mix was born in Norfolk. On his 20th birthday in 1996, he learned that rap star Tupac Shakur had died. Shakur’s death caused tension in Mix’s mind that he couldn’t shake. Soon afterward, his cousin started a rap group and asked him to be a part of it.
At first Marquis declined because he said he couldn’t rhyme. But he relented as he began to trust himself to freestyle a rap. “It was like popping a cork in my throat,” he says. “When I started to rap, all the words came to mind correctly. The feeling was a release for me.”
Mix took comfort in freestyle rapping and began writing poetry every day, but he thought about his writing and realized everything sounded angry. Depression set in and he stopped writing altogether.
In his late teens, Mix had been diagnosed with epilepsy. Now the physical symptoms were starting to take a toll. But fate intervened in his favor in January 1999, when he spotted a flyer announcing an open mic poetry night.
Trembling and sweating, Mix showed up determined to recite his poetry. One member of the small audience told Mix that he had enjoyed his poetry, and Marquis decided to do more readings. Still, even after doing open mic nights for a few years, Mix didn’t aspire to becoming a professional. He did it for the joy of self-expression, even as he became known as a spoken word artist. He started recording his spoken poetry.
13 of Nazareth
One day in 2002, Mix glanced at a table and saw his driver’s license lying there. For some reason it jarred him; conflicting emotions rushed through him, some joyful, some sad. There were birthdays, there was a death. But all of them were related in some way to the number 13.
He also reflected on a Bible verse. In John 1:46, Nathanael asks Philip “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”—despite knowing that Jesus was born in Nazareth. Scholars interpret this passage as Nathanael criticizing Jesus, perhaps due to his humble origins.
After the epilepsy diagnosis, Mix had immersed himself in spiritual inquiries into his own soul. He dwelled on this passage, believing it wasn’t a question but an omen that threatened his self-worth.
But Mix felt strong despite sensing that inner demons were sending him false messages. Because he believed the passage was declaring “no good can come from Nazareth,” he chose to deflect bad predictions through art with dutiful practice of his spoken word poetry. And as his negative feelings began to dissolve, a radiant positive emerged in the form of a professional stage name. 13 of Nazareth became the symbolic name for the man who rose above epilepsy and depression by creating healing poetry that impacted the community.
Today, Mix continues his work as a full-time artist in the realm of spoken word poetry. He is writing his first book, derived from some of his older materials. For more information about Marquis Mix, please visit 13ofnazareth.bandcamp.com/.