His title alone, poet laureate, conjures up images of a Renaissance man, which in many ways is exactly what Marcus Amaker is, albeit one that meets the current moment and not the past. This October marks the fifth year of the festival he created known as Free Verse: a collection of open mic opportunities, performance art showcases, poetry and jazz pairings and collaborations with businesses and venues to highlight poetry in creative ways.
Tell us what it means to be Charleston’s First Poet Laureate?
I was granted the title by the mayor in 2016 and the term lasts until 2022. The length varies according to state and city. My duties are to be a voice for the arts community and to spread literary love in schools and beyond.
Are you from Charleston?
No, I was born in Las Vegas and moved to South Carolina in the early 1990s. In between, I lived in England, Maryland, Japan and Texas.
When did you discover your love of words?
When I was 10 years old, I discovered the albums Control by Janet Jackson and Sign O’ The Times by Prince. Those albums were turning points in my understanding of graphic design, music and poetry. My love of music transformed me into an artist, and I started writing music at an early age.
What does poetry offer you?
The chance to express myself in a more pure way than I do in normal conversation. It also offers an opportunity to connect with people on a much deeper level than everyday interactions allow.
Is Free Verse an extension of your official duties?
It’s an extension of my love of the art form. The objective is to present poetry in ways you might not expect and put it in public spaces. This is especially important, as my goal is for poetry to be more of a normalized conversation in the art world and for students to have more opportunities to be published and perform.
What would you tell young people who are looking for a creative outlet?
That their voices matter, and poetry provides an opportunity of expression that is fairly easy to get into. I’ve seen the power of poetry everywhere I go.
Would you agree Amanda Gorman took poetry to a new level during the 2021 inauguration?
Absolutely. What she did is what all poets do: provide an opportunity for reflection through carefully crafted words. What she’s doing for the art form is beneficial to all of us.
Do you think the Grammys should have a separate category for poetry?
Pay attention, Recording Academy! Yes, because currently, the ‘spoken word’ category is a playground for celebrities. A poet will win soon enough, though.
You just released your eighth book, ‘The Birth of All Things.’ Can you tell us about it?
It’s about Black fatherhood, joy, racism, anxiety, Bjork, Star Wars and love. It’s also the culmination of all my writing styles in one place.
What’s next for Markus Amaker?
A kid’s book, more electronic music, another poetry album, opportunities created from my recent Academy of American Poets fellowship award, and hopefully more sleep — I have an 18-month-old!
How can readers participate in the Free Verse Festival?
You can purchase tickets and interact with the festival through our website, freeversefestival.com, and our social media channels.