Maybe you've known someone like him: the guy who always has a battered notebook ready in his back pocket, always fully engaged in conversation with a grin plastered across his face, always poised with a poignant phrase, ready to rhyme.
Marcus Amaker is perhaps Charleston's most active "performance poet." A regular at Kudu and East Bay coffee shops' weekly open mics, he performed with Piccolo Spoleto last spring and has several spoken-word CDs to his name. By day, he's a graphic designer for The Post & Courier.
Amaker's freshly released book (his third), The Soft Paper Cut, is a complete amalgamation of his talents.
"I like how we don't need poems to be poetic," he writes in "making love with only words," the book's opener.
He lives up to that observation with "The Symbolism Art Project," a series of graphic poems, as it were, occupying about 20 pages of the book's interior. The pieces incorporate words and imagery in an attempt to drain meaning from the language while imbuing graphic representations with semantic meaning. They range in subject matter from alcoholism to consumerism, luminism to nihilism. It's clear Amaker's making a point, but he's also guiding you toward your own interpretation of these particular "-isms."
Created by a self-described "visual person," the book combines pictures with flowing words, Amaker's method of keeping boredom out of his poetry.
"Writing is like taking a picture," he says. "I write about people I see, things I meet — it's my way of recording what happened that night."
Much of what happens to Amaker seems to involve love. The female form, both physical and spiritual, is a recurring element in his work.
"Love inspires me," he says. "Being able to write from happiness is something I've learned not to be afraid of. It's so easy to pull from something when things are going bad, but when things are going well, I embrace that, and find that I'm more comfortable with myself and what I'm doing."
"I keep it natural," he adds. "I amp up the performance with the volume of my voice, not profanity. The envelope has been pushed off the table. I've never really thought that cussing was really an instant shocker."
The works that deviate into anger or frustration in The Soft Paper Cut tend to deal with national affairs, from the war in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina.
In a poem he often performs, he tells a passenger aboard a Sept. 11 plane how "they will use you/to justify four-plus years/to rush war's fears/down our throats," then asks the reader, "quick/tell me why you insist on feeling unlucky."
New Orleans' plight struck Amaker for two reasons. One was the treatment of that the city's poor. The other was that something similar could happen to Charleston, that it's likely a monster storm will eventually hit here.
"It's less racism than classism," Amaker says.
Amaker spoke to City Paper from Maryland on his way home from Ani DiFranco's East Coast tour, spreading the word about NOLA's continued need for help. DiFranco is one of Amaker's heroes, and it makes sense that on the heels of that experience he'd say over the phone, "I'm just so in love with being alive right now."
But that's not unusual for Amaker. He lives, writes, and performs without restraint.
"When people walk away from me, I want them to be inspired to write and not censor themselves," he says. "People can relate to your darkest feelings, and it's okay to share what you're going through. Let every emotion out. Sometimes it'll even help and inspire people."