reviewed by Stephanie Burt
The Michigan-based Marcus Wicker’s second collection, after Maybe the Saddest Thing (Harper Perennial, 2012), might at first seem to place him comfortably—and proudly—in a register cocreated by Terrance Hayes. Wicker makes witty yet serious, encyclopedically allusive work whose excitable energies and wide range of diction belie the gravity of their topics: structural injustice, familial loyalty, uneasy adulthood, and institutional racism. “I come from a long braid of dangerous men // who learned to talk their way out of small compartments,” Wicker announces. “I’m a real good schmoozer but it kills me inside.” An especially spiky page projects “the white ball caught in the throat / of my granddaddy’s Negro League catcher’s mitt.” He could succeed with these effects alone. Yet Wicker takes them, and the loquaciousness they encourage, in new directions; not only into the suburbs, where he’s almost comfortable (“God, I love the cul-de-sac / at seven a.m....I envy their temporary sweet spot”) but, above all, into the realms of religion. The ultimate silencer is not part of a weapon, but part of Wicker’s memory of faith, of time spent in the church he has left, “the path to righteousness gone cold.” Any second trip through this collection will bring out not just the wit and anger, but the quiet moments that the poet sometimes labels as prayers—“A psalm praising all you’ve given,” or another that ends, “Lord, can I still sit next to you?”
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2017.