Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Catching Up With Somerville Poet Afaa Michael Weaver

Poet Afaa Michael Weaver

Catching Up With Somerville Poet Afaa Michael Weaver

By Doug Holder

  In late April the flames in the fireplace in the back of the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square no longer burn. But poet Afaa Michael Weaver’s flame is very much in view. He joined me at my usual table near the fireplace, a makeshift office with a comfortable disarray of students' essays, newspapers, and the discarded skins of whitefish on my plate that once adorned my morning bagel. It has been a while since we had a chance to talk as he has been in a whirlwind of activity as of late.

 Weaver, a poet, playwright and a Professor at Simmons College in Boston has recently won the the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Award for poetry that comes with a purse of a 100,000 dollars. Big money in the poetry biz and according to the noted poet Chase Twichell (And judge of the award) well deserved. Twitchell wrote:

  " The Kingsley Tufts Award is one of the most prestigious prizes a poet can win, and I am delighted to see it go to Afaa... He essentially invented himself from whole cloth as a poet. It is truly remarkable."

 The poetry collection that grabbed the eye of the prize was The Government of Nature ( UPITT) The poems, according to Weaver, deal with:   "...the recovery of childhood trauma in the context of Chinese spiritualism, merged with my own Christian upbringing."

  Weaver has a few other things on his plate as well. Professor Enzo Surin, a colleague of mine at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, has started a small publishing press the Central Square Press. He will be publishing a collection by Weaver titled: A Hard Summation. It will contain 13 poems that span African-American history from slavery to contemporary times.

  Weaver has also finished his final draft of his play GRIP. This is a two act play set in Baltimore( Weaver is a native son of Baltimore) in the year 2000. The play is a family drama that deals with a number of themes including: urban revitalization, the haunted past of a grandfather, race, class and gender. Weaver, years ago, studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel. ( How I learned to Drive) at Brown University. At Brown he not only honed his poetic skills but his play writing ones as well.

 Finally Weaver will have a new poetry collection coming out titled: City of Eternal Spring (UPitt) with a striking front cover by the African-American artist Romare Bearden.

 Weaver left the café, with the lumbering gait of a big man and probably headed back to his humble apartment that he refers to as The Cave on Highland Ave. And undoubtedly in his dark and cloistered corner of the world he will be hatching his next creative plot…and that’s the way it is in the Paris of New England.

On the Passing of Heaven Sutton

In the year the Mayans said our world ends,
I sit in my basement apartment, The Cave,
my neighbors from lives different from mine.

It is a most peculiar way to be sixty, up here
from down south, no way to know where up is,
what up is or should be, only what it used to be.

Winters in Boston go inside my bones until
I feel the center of nothing, where people 
grow old singing Shine on Me in a capella.

It is the center of alien coldness, hearts naked
to ice, to a blank sun, a nakedness that says it is 
the only choice, one that owns love’s essence.

I am black because I enter that space, people
see I am the door to what they ache to know,
the long corridors and rooms of our freedom,

a place where I refuse to be told I cannot dream
my own dreams, a place where people like me
agree to offer love from an uneasy forgiveness.

Nights become deep stillness, I do a soul dance
with ancestors building a respite from history,
arguing against the hard summation of slavery,

the truth of our black wish for humanity, a seed
made from resistance, bright moments where
we teach America the song of our right to live.

—Afaa M. Weaver
from A Hard Summation
previously published in Barrow Street

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