Visiting poets share views at public gathering

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Two nationally acclaimed contemporary voices in American poetry, Afaa Michael Weaver and Marcus Wicker, will read from their work Nov. 10 at the Anderson Center.

Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen will introduce Weaver and Wicker when the event begins at 7 p.m. in the historic barn. A reception and book signing will follow the reading; copies of some of their books will be available.

It will be Weaver's first visit to Red Wing and his first time in Minnesota other than a brief stop in the Twin Cities following a tour with Chinese poets in Wisconsin some time ago.

The East Coast resident knew about the Anderson Center, however, because of its strong connection to poetry and former director Christopher Burawa; they met through the Arizona State Arts Council.

"It will be a new experience for me," said Weaver, who has published 15 collections of poetry.

At Tower View he will read from "Spirit Boxing," published by the University of Pittsburgh Press earlier this year. In it, Weaver draws on his 15 years of experience as a factory worker in his native Baltimore.

According to the Anderson Center, "Weaver crafts poems that extend from his life to the lives that inhabit the broader landscape of the American working class.

"He writes with an intimacy that is rare in American poetry, and that affirms comparisons between his work and Walt Whitman's."

Formerly Michael Weaver, Afaa Weaver took a new first name in 1997 after a difficult personal time. The name Afaa means "oracle" in the Ibo language, spoken by an ethnic group in Nigeria. The name was given to him by a Nigerian playwright.

Weaver also has a unique connection to the Chinese. He became a student of the culture and language while in his 20s and has practiced tai chi for decades. A 2002 Fulbright Fellowship to Taiwan was "a life-changing experience," he said. Among other things, he began studying Mandarin at age 50.

He has received the most prestigious literary prizes for his work, including the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the Phillis Wheatley Award and others. The Beijing Writers Association awarded him the Gold Friendship Medal, plus there have been four Pushcart prizes and a 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship.

His most recent honor, Weaver noted, was being named to the Board of Trustees of Frost Place, a museum and nonprofit educational center for poetry located at Robert Frost's former home in Franconia, N.H.

Marcus Wicker and Weaver both are associated with Cave Canem, an organization of black poets of African descent. Weaver is an elder; Wicker is a fellow.

Wicker reflects "the younger generation of poetry," Weaver said.

A May 2016 resident at the Anderson Center, Wicker has published two books of poetry that is described as "dense with echoes and vibrant with syncopation."

He will read from "Silencer," which was published earlier this year.

"Wicker's poetry presents a festive array of characters from African-American culture and music to make serious commentary on memory, sadness, race, self-consciousness and desire," the Anderson Center wrote.

"Wicker is steeped in American culture, drawing from rap, jazz, hip-hop, Bruce Lee movies — but doing so to make us question what's below the veneer of popular culture."

The recipient of awards including a Pushcart prize, a Cave Canem fellowship and other honors, he was a National Poetry Series winner for his first collection, "Maybe the Saddest Thing."

The Nov. 10 reading is free and open to the public, but seating is limited to 117. For more information, call the center at 651-388-2009.

If you go...

Who: Afaa M. Weaver and Marcus Wicker

What: Poetry reading

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 10

Where: Anderson Center barn

How much: Free

More info: 651-388-2009 or www.andersoncenter.org