An Interview with Marcus Wicker

by Laura Nye


Marcus Wicker’s favorite line from his recent poem  “Self Dialogue Watching Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip” in jubliat 18: “There must be 10,000 selves in an epidermis.”

Q:        I’d like to start with your poem in issue 9.5 of DIAGRAM:   “ars poetica in the mode of j-live.”  Can you talk about your relationship with academia and the publishing world as a poet so influenced by a more popular culture?  Did you  ever submit the poem to a workshop?  How are your hip-hop influences received by different audiences?

A: I learned to write poems at Indiana University the way that most students learn to write—-by reading the heavy weights (dead and alive), discussing their craft or technique, and then employing those moves judiciously in my own work.  Needless to say, Rilke is probably more important to a graduate workshop than Rakim but because much of my poetry is driven by topical obsessions, I write what I’m given;  I write what I adore;  and hip hop was among my first loves.

“Ars Poetica in the Mode of J-Live” comes from a section of an in-progress manuscript which addresses popular hip hop song titles and hallmarks (street smarts, inequity, up-front sexuality, hard luck, etc.).  Part of the project here is to write from a mode of inquiry/logic that renders the subject matter universal.  I get a sense that a lot of journals aren’t exactly scouting work concerning such a contentious culture but I’ve been fortunate enough to place many of these pieces.  You don’t need a copy of The Source to sit down and read these poems and I think that helps.

I did not submit “Ars Poetica…” to a workshop but certainly would have.  I find that, in any given workshop, there are at least a handful of people who’ll read each piece with a writer’s intentions in mind, and those are the voices worth listening to.

Q: Your old blog features madlib and blu & exile’s Below The Heavens as well as a few freestyles—what are you listening to now?  Do you have a go-to artist or album for writing?  Can you talk about your reading style and thoughts on the performance of poetry?  Have you had any experiences with recording your recitations?


A: Well, at this very moment, Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s “When They Reminisce Over You” is rocking softly in the background.  But lately I’ve been obsessed with an album by H.I.S.D. (Houston Independent Spit District) called The Weakend–soulful production and every day, honest, contradictory, mostly nerdy rhymes.  Scope this music video and you’ll see where they’re coming from:

It’s difficult for me to simultaneously draft and listen to music but sometimes I go to Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s Black Star, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, A Tribe Called Quests’ Midnight Marauders, or LTJ Bukem’s Earth Vol. 2 for inspiration.

I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of myself as having a reading “style” but I like that idea.  I suppose I try to read my work as clearly as I can, while thinking of the general energy and voice that I heard during construction.  I tend to favor readers who evoke the tone of what’s written on the page, regardless of what that tone sounds or feels like.  Two poets, from different eras, who embody this idea for me are Gerald Stern and Ross Gay.

My younger brother’s a music producer, and most of my recording experiences involve him hilariously mocking me during recitation—which makes for a generally self-conscious reading.  I want to say that this exercise mimics the experience of a live reading, but mostly it just feels like poetic  comeuppance.  He literally shoved me out of his studio after recording this purposely flat prose poem about exhibitionist ducks:

Q: I love these lines: “. . .Joy’s high / stepping something awful.”  What direction is your work taking right now?

A: I’m working on two new projects.  The first being poems about Richard Pryor that seek to examine the relationship between an artist’s unique way of seeing and its psychosocial affects.  The second project consists of praise poems to the everyday.  Think odes to browsing the web or an apricot facial mask.  In both cases I’m trying to get back to basics—writing things rooted in love and a love for language.  So I’ve been penning lots of lyrics lately and letting a speaker’s voice spill out onto the page.

Q: Adrian Matejka was selected by our MFA program as part of our Visiting Writers series.  You guys were both featured in Anti- and your work seems to speak to each other.  What do you think of his latest chapbook, Mixology? Where do you see your work diverging or overlapping?

A: Oh wow.  That’s going to be a great reading. I’m tempted to drive to Blacksburg to check it out. Adrian Mateejka is an absolute beast of a poet.  I love his mind—the way he allows charged-up, diglossic diction to lead a reader line by line through his logic.  Mixology is a really smart collection;  it cuts through an expected treatment of race and popular culture (two subjects my writing is sometimes concerned with) and gets at some pretty tough ideas.

Q: I definitely see you both carrying popular culture with poetic grace–rooted in a love of language, as you say.  Are there any authors, publications or presses that you subscribe to that tend to popular culture with this same delicacy? For some reason I want to mention The Pharcyde’s “otha fish” for Popeye, sandwiches and fairy tale spilling into the rhymes:

I reminisce, try to clear up all the myths
for an imaginary kiss with you again
Not even friends, though I wish that I could mend
like a tailor and be Olive Oyl’s number one sailor
I ams what I am, still I falls like an anvil
She’s heavy on the mind sometimes it’s more than I can handle
But men aren’t supposed to tumble into the den B
Macho, but I hancho like Pancho will give in
Family oriented, but not Oriental
A dame is supposed to claim ya even if you drive a Pinto
A hero is a sandwich, and a Manwich is a meal
A  marriage is a paper, are they fakin or for real?
What’s the deal dabbers? Will you go tumbling after
your man and take a stand or will you help him roll faster?

A: I swear to god I’m trying my hardest not to let hip hop dominate this conversation but you’re really tempting me now. I can’t listen to Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde without playing “Otha Fish” at least two or three times in a row (which I just did). I suspect the Pharcyde spent more time thinking about aesthetics than most folks might expect, but I love emcees and poets who are able to retain traces of improv in their work, the way that a Pharcyde rhyme almost always does. In any event, you just scored major cool points in my book for that reference.
Tim Seibles, Tony Hoagland, Kyle Dargan, John Murillo, David Kirby, Bob Hicok, Matthew Dickman, Jericho Brown, Alex Lemon, Jason Bredle, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Kevin A. Gonzalez, Ander Monson, Claudia Rankine, Kaaryna McGlynn, and a host of others have penned some pretty complicated, awesome poems regarding aspects of popular culture. In the way of publications, I’m into Indiana Review, A Public Space, Columbia Poetry Review, Harpur Palate, Third Coast, jubilat, Cream City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, APR, Hunger Mountain, New Issues, Hanging Loose, and Alice James, just to name a few. I’ve gone a bit nutty with listing now, but all of these magazines and presses seem to be pop culture-friendly.

Q: What part of the literary present contribute to your biggest hope for poetry? Your biggest fear?

A: I’m heartened by the fact that the faces of Contemporary American Poetry are changing; that now, more than ever, there’s room for a diversity of voice, subject matter, and approach. I do fear, however, that commercial (read major) bookstores are largely sleeping on these poets, and will continue to do so.

Marcus Wicker’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in jubilat, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Harpur Palate, Rattle, Beloit, Sou’Wester, DIAGRAM, and cream city review, among other journals. He is an Ann Arbor, Michigan native who holds fellowships from Cave Canem and Indiana University, where he received his MFA. Marcus is also a 2010-2011 Fine Arts Work Center Fellow.