Baltimore-born poet, Aafa Michael Weaver won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award this month, given annually to an outstanding collection by a US poet, for his 12th collection, ‘The Government of Nature‘.
Coverage of the prize in newspapers and magazines has focused on Weaver’s humble beginnings and non-traditional educational route – starting out working on the factory floor at Bethlehem Steel, writing poetry, earning a National Endowment for the Arts and full scholarship to attend Brown University in his mid-30’s, becoming a playwright, a Fulbright scholar and eventually a university professor.
Most people go to university to obtain permission to write – I love that Aafa Michael Weaver did it the other way around; he wrote first and everything else came from that.
I’m ashamed to say I was not familiar with his work before reading of the award and so went searching for his poems. My favourite, The Starlings, you can listen to at Poetry.org; here’s another piece I love.
Inside the Blues Whale1978 – 1979
for Vincent Woodard
It is not just my problem. It belongs
to us all. I have been cajoled into
coming to the emergency room where
everything scares me. Black folk
shoot and cut each other until they end
here where guards have guns. I refuse
to be taken upstairs and locked away.
I was trying to think of a poem. It got me
to this place. With my mother, I stand
against the wall, guards on either side.
They have guns, and this is my mother.
It is now everybody’s problem. A bird
is singing in my hair, more important
than Thorazine. My head is a tree
stretching its leaves to burn in the sun.
They say if I make a treaty to take
the medicine, I can leave with my family
since my family is crazy. I look at the guns
on the hips of the guards and know I must
be as still and quiet as death or this will
turn into psychosis as sick as nightmares.
I am angry that they would have me here
with my mother, angry at white doctors.
I am in a whale in the ocean. Who can
swim out to me? Who can cast a line?
If I take out the first guard by breaking
his neck, I can protect my mother, but
it is more important that we are all now
underwater, inside a whale who laughs.
Later the therapist they say likes me
keeps talking about the appointment.
She is doing something subliminal with
the word “come,” repeating, repeating.
She leans to me when she says it.
It bothers me that such people think
crazy people are stupid, but it is more
important that my head is a tree
with a bird singing in it inside a whale
in the ocean. The most important thing
of all is that this whale that ate us
likes to laugh a lot. He has the blues.
Find this poem and more of his work at Poetry Foundation.