Mariner Books, 2017
The tone of these poems is at once challenge and lament. Wicker not only has a keen poetic ear but also a profoundly critical eye turning popular culture inside out with an eerie satirical tongue at once entirely serious. For example, the poem Plea to My Jealous Heart:
“What’s funny is that you think I can stop praying.
That you think I take existence—blown dandelion
across a philtrum—lightly, as irresponsible
birdsong. As the wren, finch, chickadee & prairie warbler.
As scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, laughing gull, trumpeter
swan. As common sparrows
outside my window canting dervish loops. Sparrows
that court the air & multiply. As all the love
at all times, everywhere, you think I take too much in.
You think I take communion wine for granted. Sometimes
the other wine touches me sweetly & you know it. All
the time you know it. This & how communion wine
indebts me—as the man granted new eyes
on a hiking trip.”
These poems occupy a space where calls to abstractions are spoken in a language that pulls no punches but, ultimately, are acts of pure faith. Wicker is calling out to god, calling on the reader, and calling out institutional racism. It feels as though a lot of the difficulty these poems possess is they are premised on faith, on the faith someone will hear and be affected (god, government, or the reader) but the likelihood is low. In Conjecture on the Stained-Glass Image of White Christ at Ebenezer Baptist Church, we see this kind of call:
“If in his image made am I, then make me a miracle.
Make my shrine a copper faucet leaking everlasting Evian to the masses.
Make this empty water glass a goblet of long-legged French wine.
Make mine a Prince-purple body bag designed by Crown Royal
for tax collectors to spill over & tithe into just before I rise.
If in his image made am I, then make my vessel a pearl Coupe de Ville.
Make mine the body of a 28-year-old black woman
in a blue patterned maxi dress cruising through Hell on Earth, TX
again alive. If in his image made are we, then why
the endless string of effigies?
Why so many mortal blasphemes?”
It feels as though Wicker’s ‘Silencer’ (the persona of many of the poems), speaks (calls out) and as he does so brings down a deep, coating shame on who is spoken to. In most cases, the reader is being called. But how can the reader respond? In Ars Poetica, Wicker’s Silencer seems to speak to this insurmountable divide pleading, “I’d do anything to live quietly/ in You, Father, Maker, Mother, Muse, I try so hard I try. I really do.” Rather than wait for a response, Wicker writes asserts, “I don’t want to be a clean/ cut member of any club where I can’t rock linen loose enough to/ let my junk breathe. Because, after all, Father, you made me.” (Prayer on the Subdivision)
The tension Wicker’s Silencer explores are the tensions of being a black man in the US,
“The danger in consuming the Grey Poupon is believing
that you, too, can be a first-generation member of the elite,
turning your nose up at soul music, simple joy, fried foods,
casual Fridays— essentially everything I’m made of. But because
it feels mischievous I sometimes indulge the Dream. Pretend
as if I’m one of the gang, given over to rigorously lazy readings
of Foucault, Foster Wallace, or whoever-the-fuck, because
being true only to the concerns of my own choosing could prove
to be a welcome luxury.” (Conjecture on the Dream)
Can you read these poems and not be silenced, not want to reply? Wicker provokes readers into silence–into listening, into being attentive to an-other. These poems sing an authority wholly itself.
Marcus Wicker is the recipient of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, a Pushcart Prize, The Missouri Review‘s Miller Audio Prize, as well as fellowships from Cave Canem and the Fine Arts Work Center. His first collection Maybe the Saddest Thing, a National Poetry Series winner, was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. Wicker’s poems have appeared in The Nation, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Oxford American, and Boston Review. His second book, Silencer, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2017. Marcus teaches in the MFA program at the University of Memphis, and he is the poetry editor of Southern Indiana Review.