No one would call local poet Marcus Amaker shy. In fact, sitting with him recently in Kudu Coffee, he waves at several patrons passing by and stops to talk to another who recognizes him in the middle of our chat.
With three previous books of poetry, countless spoken word performances around town, a recent documentary in the Charleston Film Festival, and graphic design work out the wazoo, Amaker is no stranger to the local creative community. But he says the work in his latest book of poetry, The Present Presence, leaves him feeling a little exposed.
"It's definitely a reflection of my life for the past eight years. It's almost like a diary," he says. "I feel naked sometimes when people read some of the work because I'm not hiding anything."
The 112-page, pocket-size collection includes poems on everything from his family to his love life to his neighborhood. While his last book The Soft Paper Cut, released in 2007, was filled with mostly love poems, he says this one has a different focus.
"I'm finding that my voice is coming from a different place with these poems," Amaker says. "I'm writing more about universal feelings instead of singular moments that I've been through, whether it's been a relationship or whatever. I find the connection that we all have when I start to write and my poems are telling me different things now."
For nosy diary readers looking for the juicy stuff, there are still plenty of love poems among his latest work. On the other end of the spectrum, the more universal themes include the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
"National tragedy and things like that really inspire me," Amaker says. "Whenever I feel like there's a lot of injustice that's happening, that strikes me. I saw myself when I saw the people of Haiti."
Amaker's love for Charleston is another reoccurring topic in his poems. After spending his childhood moving around the world in a military family, he says Charleston is the first place that's made him want to stay put. In the poem "Upper King," Amaker refers to himself as "the wide-eyed wanderer who finally found a home."
He's taken the people skills he learned during his nomadic childhood and put them to good use in the community. When he's not mentoring high school-aged student writers, he's cultivating a group of local poets through the website he created, charlestonpoets.com, where fellow writers can post and discuss their poems.
Since the release of his last book, Amaker has stayed plenty busy. After resigning from The Post and Courier's Charleston Scene in 2011, he's been freelancing as a videographer and graphic and web designer. On the side, he records music for his website — eight albums to date — and dabbles in contemporary art and filmmaking. You could say creativity oozes out of him.
"I really don't see it as different art forms. It's all art to me," he says. "Any way that I can express myself, that's what I'm going to do. I never want to pigeonhole myself or be labeled a certain thing. I just love experimenting."
In The Present Presence, Amaker put all his talents to use, contributing the photography for the book as well as designing the whole project himself. He said he chose its title as a reminder to readers and himself to live in the moment.
"I realized when I'm happiest, when I feel like people are most happy, is when they're in the moment instead of worrying about the future or thinking about the past. This is the best moment of our lives, right now, and focusing in on that is a really amazing place to be. It's not like I'm there all the time, though, or I would be Yoda, you know?"