About His Work
"These poems of Afaa Michael Weaver take you by the hand, like a trusted grown-up takes a child, down a landscaped and stylized pathway of disturbing memories, family ghosts, and familiar, even endearing, internal landmarks." Denis Daly
A review of The Government of Nature by Denis Daly for the Somerville News -- March 20, 2013
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University
Weaver's papers are collected in the Howard Gotlieb Archives.
Weaver's career narrative and resume (93.0KB)
Weaver's 11th collection of poetry is a translation of his poems into Arabic entitled "Like the Wind," translated by Ms. Wissal Al-Allaq of the United Arab Emirates as part of the Kalima project. Photo by Lynda Koolish
Afaa Michael Weaver
The Plum Flower Dance: Poems 1985 to 2005 (Pittsburgh)
Weaver grew up in East Baltimore, served a voluntary stint in the U.S. Army Reserves, and worked at the Proctor and Gamble plant for 14 years. He also wrote poetry on the side, and, like Lucille Clifton, the poems survived and thrived against all odds. These days, he directs the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center at Simmons College and counts the likes of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. among his admirers. This collection, Weaver’s ninth, is steeped in Chinese philosophy, but that doesn’t mean the poet can’t also riff about jazz greats (“Thelonious,” “The Last Jazz Club,” and others) and recall beatdowns administered by other Poets (in this case, a Dunbar Poets basketball team that destroyed Weaver’s hapless Poly squad). It’s a great mix, one that makes the book intellectually buoyant and down-to-earth at the same time.
The Plum Flower Dance
East Providence Post
Today, I tell you about a beautiful book of poems: The Plum Flower Dance. And of the man who created it, an American factory worker who embraced the philosophy of the East, was saved by it and became a professor of the great poets who cleared the path before him.
- o -
I can never convince my father
That my best work is done in naps,
In the greenest of grass, near the smell
Of manure, in the song of neighing
And snorting, in the infinite music
That fills the word with bright meaning . . .
- o -
On the far side of the river in my Temple of Books, at the back of a closet deep in the Bleeding Heart of the Holy Land, lies the unpublished memoir of the man who wrote that remarkable stanza: Aafa Michael Weaver.
Titled "Heaven Has No Horses," it sits behind a pair of black Converse high tops worn out at the heel and a pair of cowboy boots from Muleshoe, Texas that always pinched my feet. Weaver's remembrance is guarded by crooked stacks of poetry books: Whitman, to whom Weaver has been compared in earnest; Lorca, Daniel Berrigan and Robert Frost, an overflow waiting for the next shelf.
A poet kid I know in Los Angeles, homeless by the choice in the way Walt Whitman chose to brave the Civil War front to hand out books, found a ragged English text in a coffee house not long ago and raced through it until Frost put the brakes on.
"The beady spider, the flower like a froth . . .
and the moth carried like a paper kite . . ."
Said the kid, hungry but not begging: "The spider is desperate. I relate."
There is no desperation in "The Plum Flower Dance," not in poems of ancient radios broadcasting ballgames or idle clarinets in the summer. Each page is but a request for a moment of your time.
"Alone, I meditate on the invisible . . ."
This is not a passive book. It simply understands, as St. Teresa of Avila understood when she counseled "let nothing perturb you," that there is no gain in desperation.
What the sages know is what Weaver submitted himself to learning from the time of his childhood, a black kid exposed to both city and country in the last days of segregation.
Weaver watched his beloved uncle blast a neighbor's dog with a shotgun and followed orders to dump the corpse on a pile of junk to be burned. Later, he stood dry eyed, frozen under "layers and layers of loss," as the glue man hauled his beloved Appaloosa away, the horse declared loco for eating wood.
His life was changed, as it would continue to change for years to come (centuries before Beatle George, Avila's Teresa also preached that all things must pass), on the Christmas he found a Brownie camera under the tree.
Though the camera became Weaver's third eye, "there was something in life I was not seeing," he wrote in Heaven Has No Horses. "There was something in me I wanted to capture . . . but it was many years away, inside [of] me."
The things hidden deep inside of Aafa Weaver are given voice in "The Plum Flower Dance," two decades of poems [1985 to 2005] released this autumn by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
The book is that rare bird, both weightless and profound, whose journey out into the world is apt to bring laurels home for its author.
I don't follow poetry the way I study fiction, but like I said earlier, people who know what they're talking about are comparing Weaver to Whitman.
Of course, by the end of Whitman's life he was scrambling for a menial civil servant's job to keep food on the table and ink in his pen, but that's the ballgame. The point is this:
"Can you contain my most intimate whisper,
settle it down after it has entered you,
make it a part of you and still cling
to my hand as gently as your eyes hold me?"
The Government of Nature (U Pittsburgh 2013)
from the review by Denis Daly in the Somerville News March 20, 2013
These poems of Afaa Michael Weaver take you by the hand, like trusted grown-up takes a child, down a landscaped and stylized pathway of disturbing memories, family ghosts, and familiar, even endearing, internal landmarks. The cadences are well wrought, formal (in the sense of elevated language), and beautifully rhythmic. In some poems the rhythm delivers a near chant. In others it becomes a strangled but pulsed whisper. Weaver covers some dangerous territory here. The power of this poetic collection derives from his meditations on his own experiences as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by an uncle. So much could have gone wrong in the writing. But it doesn’t. Without hatred or self-pity Weaver strikes just the right tone with intelligent contemplation and a pretty remarkable understanding of evil’s context...The poems themselves seem to bridge a psychic divide between the horror of past predation and the solace of a future life..."
Multitudes (Sarabande Books 2000) & The Government of Nature (U Pittsburgh 2013)
“The poems in this volume (Multitudes), shrewdly chosen from five previous books and including some new pieces, amount to a compelling presentation of the mind and art of an important writer... His vision is local and focused, and as befits a poet of genuine depth and seriousness of purpose, it is as wide as the horizon itself.”
"Rich with detail about family and community, Weaver's poems investigate his experience and their own place within the tradition of American poetry. . . . Afaa Michael Weaver's work is in turn elegiac, celebratory and sensual, the poetry of a writer in clear command of the lyric."
Stations in a Dream (Dolphin Moon & Lite Circle Books 1993)
“With astonishing success, Michael S. Weaver recreates the world Marc Chagall painted: that of East European Jewry, its passions and its Scriptures. ..I was startled again and again, by Weaver’s wise humanity, his beautiful imagery, and the confidence of his vocal music. This is a wonderful book”
--Robert Lapides, co-editor Lodz Ghetto