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Turning silence on police shootings into poetry

Hip-hop is the soundtrack to poet Marcus Wicker's daily life, and his love for the music comes out naturally in his writing, which addresses topics like the violence perpetrated against black bodies. Wicker offers his Brief but Spectacular take on beats, rhymes and poetry.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next, we turn to another installment of our weekly Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask people about their passions.

    Tonight, we hear from award-winning poet Marcus Wicker. His most recent book, "Silencer," highlights the complexities of being a black man in America.

  • Marcus Wicker:

    I'm a child of hip-hop, and grew up with it, especially in the '90s. I can't help it. It's always on in the background, you know, when I'm riding to the cleaners or on my way to teach.

    And so, because of that, the cadences and the rhythms of hip-hop sort of come out naturally in my thought patterns. And so I can't help that they sort of spill out onto the page as I'm writing.

    I think that there's no better hip-hop group than A Tribe Called Quest. Always liked Wu-Tang.

    There are poems where I sample Kendrick Lamar. So, for instance, he's got a line: What you want you, a house, you a car, 40 acres and a mule, a piano, a guitar?

    And so I use that, right? I sample the lyrics. And then I say, what you need you, a bond, you a tree, 40 acres and a mule, a Monopoly piece?

    And then the poem goes out from there.

    I was living in Southern Indiana and teaching. And twice a month, I had this guy dinner. We'd go out. We would get suited and booted.

    Me, as a college professor. Another guy was a lawyer. There was a cat who was a skateboarder and another guy who built fences for a living.

    And so you can imagine like the topics. We just go from one thing to the other. But whenever I brought up gone violence and gun violence perpetrated against the black body, all the police shootings that I was seeing in the news, it got very quiet, as if I was being silenced.

    And so I did the passive-aggressive thing that you do as a poet. You write a poem about it.

    I'm going to read to you "Conjecture on the Stained Glass Image of White Christ at Ebenezer Baptist Church."

    The title refers to the famous church in Atlanta, Georgia, where you can still see the image of a white Jesus at the pulpit in a predominantly black church.

    "If in his image made am I, then make me a miracle. Make my shrine a copper faucet leaking everlasting Evian to the masses. Make this empty water glass a goblet of long-legged French wine. Make mine a Prince-purple body bag designed by Crown Royal for tax collectors to spill over and tithe into just before I rise.

    "If in his image made am I, then make my vessel a pearl Coupe de Ville. Make mine the body of a 28-year-old black woman in a blue patterned maxi dress cruising through Hell on Earth, Texas, again alive.

    "If in his image made are we, then why the endless string of effigies? Why so many mortal blasphemes? Why crucify me in H.D. across a scrolling news ticker, tied to a clothesline of broken necks long as time?"

    It's my hope that writing about these things, sometimes quietly, the absence of those details, the blood and the gore that you see on the news, that that'll be something, that that'll be arresting, and that'll be enough to move someone to do something.

    My name is Marcus Wicker, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on beats, rhymes and poetry.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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