Washington, DC- Teaching and living in Southern Indiana, Marcus Wicker would go out with his friends; himself the professor, a lawyer, a professional skateboarder and a carpenter. The eclectic group would talk about everything, with one exception.
“Whenever I started to talk about gun violence, particularly gun violence perpetrated against the black body, and police brutality, it always got very quiet, as if I was being silenced,” Wicker said.
As a poet, he began to write. He called his book, a collection of poems, “Silencers” because, as he wrote on his website, “For a while I was worried that I was being silenced, and so, as a kind of therapy, I began writing ‘silencers’—poems that address gun violence and police brutality against African Americans in the news, without specifically invoking case details.”
His poems were a response to him feeling like he couldn’t talk about something that felt so deeply personal to him, and for a long time the poems were about something entirely different.
Wicker began writing “Silencers” in 2011, writing poems about nature and pop culture, but after a year he stopped writing in 2012, and placed the manuscript in his desk drawer, all but forgetting about it. He had been writing poetry since he was a kid. When the national poetry slam came to his hometown of Ann Arbor, MI, he changed his opinion of poetry and instantly became interested.
That changed the evening of June 7, 2015, when Dylan Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist arrived at Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, only to commit the largest mass shooting at a place of warship, killing 9 people.
That evening, Wicker wrote a poem to process what had happened. He began writing more about race, police brutality, and the fact that we haven’t made much change since Jim Crow times, and how he, a middle-class man from Ann Arbor, MI, wasn’t safe in the world for the sole reason that he is black.
“Sometimes I can barely walk out into daylight wearing a cotton sweatshirt without trembling,” he wrote in one of his poems, “and surely I don’t have to tell you who gets put down and who gets to walk away.”
Standing in the back of Politics and Prose, Wicker told the group of no more than 20 that one of the things that’s always interested him was why bad things happen to good people, why does evil exist?
“For in the one spirit, we were baptized in the one body, Jews or Greeks, Slaves are free, and all were made to drink of one spirit,” Wicker read from a poem in Silencers. The trouble with hate and evil are that they’re engrained.
“So I really like to shop, not for big things, just for like, handkerchief, some argyle socks, but I get dressed up to go to the store, which is a little silly. But after more assessment I realized I do that so I’m not profiled, right, in the store. But, in doing that, it’s like I’m profiling myself, which is the saddest thing,” Wicker said. Part of the issue, he is arguing, is that people often permeate the prejudice against themselves without even realizing it. Is he only safe, only approachable, when he’s dressed up?
Wicker then went on to discuss the 2016 election, specifically when then candidate Trump announced he was in favor of stop and frisk.
“Which scares the shit out of me and people like me because we all know that’s another way to profile, to discriminate,” he added. But then he said something else, furthering the point that this is complicated and messy.
“No sirey, see I practice self-target practice,” he reads from one of his poems, this one about prejudice and profiling. At some point, Wicker argues, does he profile himself so others don’t?
It’s an interesting point, and one he appears to go back and forth on in his mind, talking about how ridiculous it is that he dresses up to go to the store, but also how it’s the only way he feels comfortable doing so.
Wicker’s Silencers follows up on his first collection of poetry, “Maybe The Saddest Thing” which he released in 2012. Wicker was awarded the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and is currently a professor in the Master’s program at the University of Memphis.