Press: Young artist holds the spirit of poetry

December 16, 2007

By Marjory Wentworth

A week or two after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I heard Marcus Amaker perform his poem “jazz” at Monday Night Blues in downtown Charleston. He had composed the poem in the aftermath of the storm and all the horrors that followed. Marcus experienced the same disbelief and anger the rest of us felt watching it unfold on TV; the difference is that he created art from the horror.

“Jazz” reminded us why we love New Orleans. For a few minutes, Marcus filled the room with hope. His words celebrated the food, music and people of that magical city. I was astonished at how quickly he had responded to this crisis. Performance poets create poetry that is meant to be heard, and this requires its own kind of craft.

South African novelist Andre Brink wrote, “No man can claim he has not personally seen the intolerable condition of the world.” With the mass media’s capacity to bring images and stories of suffering to our computers and TV screens with virtual immediacy, none of us can say we are not aware of such things. This knowledge is a kind of burden for any artist. The poet’s task is to speak for all.

Performance poets tend to be more political and timely in subject matter, and their performances have a sense of urgency that is particularly intense. Marcus’ performance at Monday Night Blues exemplified these characteristics.

Marcus has been instrumental in the creation of the Charleston poetry community, which is growing in all ways. Soon after moving to Charleston to work as a graphic designer for this newspaper, Marcus started This Web site is intended to bring poets together by listing open mike events and providing a social network for local artists. Marcus has hosted and performed in numerous open mike events, and he has collaborated with other like-minded artists and musicians. He is a gracious performer, open, generous and supportive.

He also has published three books and produced three CDs. Most recently, he published the book “the soft paper cut: poetry and art by marcus amaker.” “Jazz” is included in this collection, as well as dozens of other poems. Not all performance poets produce books, and Marcus is one of those poets whose work works as well on the printed page as it does spoken into a microphone.

“The soft paper cut” is filled with love poems. The poems are a celebration of all that brings joy, from long nights with lovers to nights walking the streets of Charleston. Designed by Marcus, this unique book can fit in the palm of your hand and makes a wonderful stocking stuffer. Pages have scribbled lines from journals printed throughout the text, personal photographs and an interesting series of graphic poems that are thought-provoking.

On his Web site (www.marcus, Marcus states: “Hundreds, hundreds, hundreds and hundreds of poems exist in my house and journals and closets.” I love this image of poems spilling from the corners. We are so lucky to have this gifted, giving young man in our midst.


the morning rises with smoke

and the water

drowns out the sky,

washing your music away.

new orleans,

you were silent today.

your muted colors

were splashed upon

television screens,

your ink

darkened newspapers,

smearing silhouettes

all over our hands

and we are helpless and

restless with worry —

wondering when Bourbon St.

will dance again.

when men will make love

to the evening air

with saxophones,

where someone

soaks up the atmosphere

with spicey Cajun food,

speaking creole.

new orleans,

you have so much soul.

and now I dream

in jazz rhythms.

closing my eyes

to feel the drumbeat

that rests steady

beneath the ruin

it echoes — heavy,

with the heartbeat of families

forced to flee the floodwaters

where melodies

no longer float through the air,

instead they lay there,

unable to breathe.

but you will find

your beat again.

it will rise with the morning air

and the water

will sing to the sky

and our tears

will write new songs

for jazz to sing.

(“Jazz” is reprinted with permission of the author, from “the soft paper cut: poetry and art by marcus amaker,” published in 2007 by Organic Process Productions LLC.)