Growing up in an Air Force family, moving from Vegas to England to Maryland to Japan to Texas, wasn’t easy for shy Marcus Amaker. But in his latest book of poetry, Mantra, he recalls how as a young man, his art form helped him find his voice: “Poetry blossomed the boy who didn’t know he had wings; poetry made me sing.”
Valuing the reflection required to write poetry, he selected the title Mantra to invite readers to consider their own mantras, or personal truths. The former editor of The Post and Courier’s Charleston Scene put his graphic and web design skills to work, creating the book (self-published like five others he’s debuted since 2005), and designing an accompanying app, plus mantrapoems.com. We sat down for a chat with the motivated poet, who performs his works during events including East Bay Meeting House’s Monday Night Poetry and Music.
Multimedia approach: People are reading, but they are reading on screens, so I decided to publish this book in both physical and digital formats. As a poet who loves to perform, I liked that I could include an audio version and videos, as well as a space for readers to submit their own mantras, some of which will be published in the next volume of the book.
Finding personal truths: The time for small talk is over. Let’s explore our truths through poetry, art, love, and conversations. Believe me, truth can be ugly. I don’t want people to be afraid to share what they are going through, and I welcome those interactions through this project.
On self-publishing: My definition of success is simply being able to share my work with others. I’m not necessarily looking for a big distribution. With self-publishing, you own the work, you decide how many books to print, and it is up to you to get them out to people. You get back what you put into it.
Literary inspiration: I’m inspired by singers more than writers. Joni Mitchell and Ani Difranco have really impacted me; they taught me what it means to be a feminist. I’m also inspired by Langston Hughes—I can hear the rhythm in his writing and appreciate how his poetry was not meant specifically for a literary audience, but for the people.
Charleston's poetry community: I participate through different events, like a slam I recently hosted at the Music Hall. Matthew Foley and I work together on an after-school program called the Holy City Youth Slam, doing workshops and having kids put on their own slams. I’m also vice-president of Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts.
Journaling in bars: When I moved to Charleston, I started going to bars by myself with a pen and notebook. Writing outside of my house really forces me to focus on my journal, especially when I don’t know anyone at the bar. And watching from a sober point of view as people lose inhibitions provides inspiration and reflection.
Day job: My business doing graphic design, videography, and website building frees me up financially and gives me time to write.
May nuptials: I married Jordan, the love of my life. Marriage is very relaxing; I feel more free.
What's next: I want to do more outreach and use my technical skills to help other poets. I see people really stuck in the process of wanting to create a book or CD, and I’m like, “You can do it, literally, tomorrow. I can help you.”
Watch Amaker read "The New Foundation" from Mantra during a February 2015 Charleston Music Hall performance: