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.