Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Hard Summation. Afaa Michael Weaver.


 A Hard Summation.  Afaa Michael Weaver. ( Central Square Press PO BOX 2621  Lynn, MA. 01903) $11.

Review by Doug Holder

It is always a pleasure to get a new book published by a new local press. A colleague of mine at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, Enzo Silo Surin, the founder of the Central Square Press, has published a new book of poetry (A Hard Summation) by poet and Somerville resident Afaa Michael Weaver. Weaver is a professor at Simmons College in Boston, and recently won the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Award. He has penned a collection of 13 poems that cover the history of African- Americans from the Middle Passage to the present day. Weaver’s intention, according to Surin, is to give the reader, “an opportunity to listen, celebrate, commemorate, and appreciate the success and failures of the past in order to develop a current and contextual understanding of what it means to be an African-American."

In the poem “In Charleston, the Slave Market” Weaver gives us the visceral feel of a human being, being treated like a shank of beef by prospective slave brokers. Like the slaves, the poem is stripped down and naked, with powerful short bursts of metaphorical language:

“…the markets where they stand naked,
white women poking at them, looking over places
only mothers should touch, shopping for black pets
for white children, for girls who can grow and make
more black children, as it they are gardens…”

 The two part poem “Migration, the Big Cities” concerns the thoughts of a husband and wife about their exodus from the sweaty, unforgiving fields of the South, to the Northern industrial cities, with their relative freedom and broader horizons. Weaver, attuned to the telling detail gives us the before and after with crystal clear brushstrokes. Here the husband thinks of his new life with his wife and the past he left behind:

“ Steelworker now, ain’t no farmer no more.
met my wife in the  mills, not a juke joint floor.
I got a time clock to punch and work shoes too,
no mule to prance behind and feed hay to chew.

My dreams touch the sky and tickle heaven
as we forget the night riders and the evils of men,
while we save money for our little house
where we can feed our children a plate of souse.”

Weaver, a respected academic, was a factory worker in Baltimore for many years.  He knows his lineage and was part of the next generation of African-Americans to leave their blue-collar jobs to join the professional class. It is amazing what Weaver can do with thirteen poems. But a top shelf poet, with an economy of words, can create a whole world, a whole history for his reader. Weaver has achieved this.

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