Marcus Wicker is this year’s poet for the In Print Festival of First Books, which will be on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week! His debut collection of poems, Maybe the Saddest Thing, was selected for the National Poetry Series and published last year by Harper Perennial. Below, Wicker discusses his book, inspirations, and writing experiences among other topics in an interview conducted by Makayla Sickbert. Also, be sure to check out interviews with In Print Festival’s fiction author Eugene Cross and nonfiction author Elena Passarello, and don’t forget to join us on March 19 and 20 at 7:30 PM in the Student Center Ballroom for the 8th annual In Print Festival of First Books!
Marcus Wicker’s first book Maybe the Saddest Thing was selected for the National Poetry Series and published by Harper Perennial in 2012. He has received fellowships from The Poetry Foundation, Cave Canem, the Fine Arts Work Center, and Indiana University. Wicker’s work has appeared in Poetry, Beloit, Third Coast, and Ninth Letter, among other journals. He is assistant professor of English at University of Southern Indiana and poetry editor of Southern Indiana Review.
The following interview was conducted by Broken Plate 2013 student faculty member Makayla Sickbert.
Congratulations on publishing Maybe the Saddest Thing! How did it feel to publish your first book as part of the National Poetry Series?
Thanks, Makayla. Pretty wonderful! I remember the day my first box of books arrived; I kept rubbing the cover as if it were a genie’s lamp or a mirage. Maybe I was checking for authenticity. That night I walked around the house reading the collection aloud, from cover to cover. I must have finished it three or four times.
How did you start writing? Did poetry come easy for you?
I can’t recall a time in my life when I wasn’t scribbling something in a notebook somewhere, but I suppose I began to take poetry seriously my sophomore year of high school. I had a cool English teacher who took our class to the National Youth Poetry Slam (now known as Brave New Voices) at the University of Michigan. There I saw teens my age reading better versions of my notebook’s contents but with flare. I thought “I could do this” and did, until my first college creative writing course where I began to spend more time on the page.
A selection of your book titled “Beats, Breaks, & B-Sides” has a lot of references to music. What do you feel is the relationship between your poetry and music?
Legendary drummer Art Blakey once said “Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life.” Every now and then, when a poem is underway and I’m in the pocket—words in the right register, cadences crisp—I feel a little like a lightheaded horn player or emcee. For several hours at a time, the real world falls away. Does that count?
Where do you enjoy writing and what are your actual tools? Is your process actually like you describe in “I’m a Sad, Sad Man. So Sad”? Or has it changed as you’ve moved to different locations?
I’m still writing on the go, always taking notes: in my planner, on the back of student poems, on flyers. Sometimes I start with a pen and make my way to the laptop. Other times I’ll skip the pen and go straight to the PC. I’ve got a great office in my apartment equipped with plenty of corkboard for in-progress poems and a punching bag for slow motion drafts. I usually write there.
Who/what are you currently reading/listening to?
A little bit of everything. Donne’s “Holy Sonnets,” Jacob Shores Arguello’s In the Absence of Clocks, dystopian novels, francine j. harris’s allegiance, Matthew Dickman’s latest, and a boatload of submissions for Southern Indiana Review.
Musicians in heavy rotation: Oddissee, Kendrick Lamar, Terrance Blanchard, Madlib, Curtis Mayfield, Pete Rock.
You’re currently teaching at the University of Southern Indiana. Have you learned anything from your students there? Has teaching influenced your writing at all?
My students at USI are fantastic; they’re often more innovative than they realize. I’ll end up stealing from them before the semester is over.
I’m sure teaching has influenced my writing in more ways than I’ve considered, but it certainly influences my reading. In a practical sense, I read poems more critically for the purpose of teaching, as opposed to sitting down with a literary journal on a leisurely Saturday afternoon. I’ve read Galway Kinnell’s “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” literally hundreds of times. In preparation for class this morning, I reread the piece, saw something new, and fell for it all over again. I should thank my students for that.
If you had to be remembered by just three poems in this book, which would you choose?
They change with the day. At this moment: “Stakes is High,” “Self Dialogue Watching Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip,” and “1998.”
– Interview conducted by Makayla Sickbert