Charleston’s Poet Laureate shares prose at DI Library BHM program
Charleston’s renowned Poet Laureate Marcus Amaker shared several of his poems at the third presentation in the Black History Month series at the Daniel Island Library on February 7.
In all likelihood, you’ve heard Marcus Amaker’s name, especially if you’re keen to the Charleston arts scene. As the new ambassador for the Holy City’s talented cadre of poets, Marcus is now responsible for penning original poems for major city events (like the inauguration of Mayor John Tecklenburg, the very official who bestowed the poet with this literary honor). In his new role, Marcus also heads initiatives that support literacy in Charleston schools through poetry.
Despite all that he’s tasked with as Poet Laureate, Marcus is not one to rest on his laurels, especially those in the wreath of his new crown. When he’s not writing poetry (he just came out with “Mantra,” his most recent collection of poetry, which is also available as an app) or working with students on their poems, Marcus may be writing song lyrics for a library workshop and composing his own music. As a web designer, he also may be hard at work developing a client’s site, or burning the midnight oil in his role as Lead Graphic Designer for No Depression, a national music magazine. Of course, we might also find him DJ’ing at his own radio station, WOHM (96.3 FM), at a presentation for TEDx, or an interview with PBS, Huffington Post, or Charleston Business Magazine (the magazine just voted him one of this year’s most influential people in Charleston).
As a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a degree in journalism, Marcus generously gives journalists as much of his very limited time as he can spare; after all, he’s been in their shoes as the former editor of “Charleston Scene,” the Post and Courier’s entertainment section. Here’s what he shared recently with The Daniel Island News:
Q: How would you define what a poem is - as opposed to other kinds of literary text? Why do you think poetry appealed to you above all genres of writing?
A: A poem is a complete reflection of the truth without wasting any words. Poetry appealed to me as a kid because I was trying to write songs ... For me, it’s an extension of my love of music.
Q: How does poetry convey a message (story) differently than the other genres?
A: Poetry conveys a message through silence, presence and intention. When you listen to a poet read, you have to pay attention to the words. Silence plays a big key for poetry, because you have to be intentional if you want to connect to the message and the words.
Q: Who’s your favorite poet?
A: Joni Mitchell. She’s been pigeonholed as a “singer/songwriter,” but she’s one of the most accomplished and talented guitar players / composers / painters and poets of all time. Her album “Hejira” could be a book. The lyrics are perfect.
Q: Does the definition of “poet” go beyond just someone who writes poems?
A: Anyone can be a poet! It just means that you are willing to tell the truth and write it down.
Q: Now that you are Charleston’s Poet Laureate - you are an ambassador of sorts - to inspire and encourage others to try their hand at the art of poetry, using it as a voice for their communities. As part of this role, what are you looking forward to doing the most?
A: I’m looking forward to helping kids write poetry. To help them realize that I’m not special just because I’m in this position. They, too, have a voice and can use their voice to speak their truth. I’m really excited about doing a poetry festival in Charleston. And doing public art in Charleston.
Q: Where were you born and raised? Did any specific family member or friend or childhood experience influence you to write - or become who you are today?
A: I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada. Then moved to England, Maryland, Japan and Texas. My father was in the Air Force for 22 years. The spark for my writing came when my dad played Prince for me when I was three years old.
Q: Is there a relationship between poetry and songwriting?
A: I believe poetry and songwriting come from the same place. I don’t distinguish one from the other. Every popular song has lyrics, right? I would encourage people to read the lyrics BEFORE hearing the song ... it will amaze you how different the song sounds from your initial reading. Fascinating stuff...I play all of the music that I create. Drum machines, keyboards, bass, samples, everything. I love it!
Q: Is there a special message that you are trying to send to the Charleston community - to the nation at large - through your poetry?
A: The one message I want to convey is love. Push love. Be love.
Q: You’re mentoring Daniel Island resident Claire Conway, a student at the Charleston County School of the Arts who has launched her own singing and songwriting career. Has the experience been rewarding for you? How?
A: It’s completely and utterly rewarding to mentor a student. I’m learning a lot from her.
Obviously, the feeling is mutual. Claire had this to say about her mentor:
“Marcus is patient, enthusiastic and very good at what he does, but beyond that, it has been a great experience to work with someone who is so involved in the community. Marcus has been a great supporter not only of my writing, but of my art and music, too. He came to my release show, introduced me to fellow artists and poets, encouraged me to share my work at open mic and even played a couple of my songs on his radio show. He rocks.”
“Negative Zero” by Marcus Amaker
Amaker doesn’t so much recite his poems as share them with his audiences; you feel as though you’re hanging with a good friend who’s letting you in on what’s going on in his head and in his heart.
I look for pennies from heaven
when my spirit’s balance is low.
signs of secret treasures
that reveal themselves
even on roads that are paved
with the dirt of depression.
my hands have been
held to the sky,
cupping air like money,
trying to fill my lungs
with the wealth of the world
so that every time I breathe,
I am forced to believe
that my ability to exhale
my veins are my lifeline,
my skin is thick enough
to withstand the highs and lows
of a blood red overflow.
but when I am in debt to fear,
it takes the form of a cockroach,
crawling on that same skin,
with antennas plugged in
to the spiraling deficit
of my mind.
and when I am in debt to fear,
it takes the form of a stock market crash –
my self worth plunges
to a place with no turning back.
And when I am in debt to fear,
even the sun is flawed
because it can be dimmed,
defined by its shortage of light.
Courtesy Marcus Amaker)