By Zoe Morgan
Washington, D.C. – When Marcus Wicker was living in southern Indiana a few years back, he would often go out with a group of friends and they would all discuss current events. However, whenever Wicker mentioned gun violence and police brutality, his friends would all go silent, not knowing what to say.
As a response to this experience, Wicker wrote “Silencer,” a collection of poems that explores gun violence and police brutality through lyrical verse. Wicker spoke about the book, and read samples from it, during a Sept. 17 event at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.
“Whenever I started to talk about gun violence though, particularly gun violence perpetrated against the black body, and police brutality, it always got very quiet, as if I was being silenced,” Wicker said. “And so I did that thing that you do, this angsty thing as a poet, I wrote poems about them. I call them silencers.”
Wicker said that he is interested in the odyssey, specifically why bad things happen to good people. Through this collection of poems, Wicker said that he wanted to explore the nature of evil in the world.
“Sometimes I say that my poems operate like a sleight of hand, like the first couple of lines will be a joke that I’ll use to reel you in, you’ll get comfortable, and then I’ll go for the throat,” Wicker said.
Wicker began writing this collection of poems in 2011, planning to write about the natural world, a few of which are included in the final book. However, he then stopped writing in 2012, saying that he needed time to figure out what he “needed to be writing about.”
After the death of Trayvon Martin, Wicker began writing again and continued until the book was finished last summer while he was completing a poetry residency.
The final poems cover topics including the shooting of black churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Wicker says that he wrote the poem about the shooting the same day that it happened as a gut reaction to what he saw. A few months later, once the poem was less personal to him, he made the edits.
Writing poems on such heavy topics takes an emotional toll, Wicker said in an interview after the event. “These are the sort of poems that weigh on you,” he said, explaining that he was sometimes concerned about putting too much on the page, because it would put him in a dark mood that was hard to get out of. After writing the poems, Wicker said that he had to emotionally heal.
Although the poems center on gun violence, they also grapple with topics ranging from suburbia to the existence of a higher power. During the talk, Wicker said that he is getting to a place in his life where he wants to buy a house and lay down roots, themes that he explores through his poetry. He also writes about the influence of technology in our lives. One of his poems was inspired by an experience he had while doing a poetry residency in Michigan.
“I’d come home to the suburbs in Ann Arbor, and the power had gone out in the neighborhood,” Wicker said. “And so I saw eight kids sort of like standing there looking at a football like, ‘what the fuck do we do now that there’s no Xbox?’”
Wicker also discussed his daily experiences as a black man, including the casual discrimination and microaggressions that he faces. Wicker shared an anecdote about how he enjoys shopping for small things like pocket-handkerchiefs and argyle socks.
“I get dressed up to go to the store to shop, which is a little silly,” Wicker said. “But after more assessment, I realize I do that so that I’m not profiled in the store. But in doing that, it’s like I’m profiling myself, which is the saddest thing.”
Wicker also wrote a poem about a woman at a cocktail party who told him that he was surprisingly well spoken. He talked at the event about the frequency with which he receives these kinds of potentially well meaning, but racially charged, comments. He grapples with these issues throughout the poems in “Silencer.”
After the event, there was a question and answer session with audience members where wicker discussed how he began writing poetry. Wicker explained that he has always been writing, but that his interest in poetry began when the National Youth Poetry Slam came to Ann Arbor when he was a teenager.
“I saw kids who were my age who were writing poems and brave enough to share them, where I had not been brave,” Wicker said. “And so after a while I took some summer youth poetry camp, actually that year, and so it’s been in my bones since then.”