[REVISED] Marcus Wicker explores gun violence and police brutality in new poetry collection “Silencer”

Marcus Wicker reads from his new poetry collection, “Silencer.” Photo by Zoe Morgan.

By Zoe Morgan

Washington, D.C. – When Marcus Wicker was living in southern Indiana a few years ago, he would often go out with a group of friends and they would discuss current events. However, whenever Wicker mentioned gun violence and police brutality, his friends, he said, would all go silent, seemingly not knowing what to say.

“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.”

As a response to this experience, Wicker wrote his second book, “Silencer,” a collection of poems that explores gun violence and police brutality through lyrical verse. Wicker teaches at the University of Memphis and his first poetry collection “Maybe the Saddest Thing” was a National Poetry Series winner. He spoke about his new book, and read excerpts from it, during a Sunday, Sept. 17 event at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Wicker said that he is interested in why bad things happen to good people. Through this collection of poems, Wicker said he wanted to explore the nature of evil in the world.

Wicker began writing this collection of poems in 2011, planning to write about the natural world. Although a few of these poems are included in the final book, he 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. The collection includes poems referencing Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Philando Castile.

Another poem grapples with 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 cover 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 put 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?’”

The resulting poem, “Creation Song in Which a Swift Wind Sucker Punches a Transformer,” explores the ways that technology has permeated people’s lives and the uncertainty that results when it is temporarily removed.

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.”

“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.

At the end of 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 as a teenager, when the National Youth Poetry Slam came to Ann Arbor.

“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.”

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