4 , 2006
A Weaver of Disparate Strands
have it all planned out. They have their maps and they’re
sure of where they’re going. Others, and I am one of them,
make plans but then tend to drift a little with the prevailing winds,
sometimes arriving in an unexpected place.
Weaver is one of those, too. He is a poet, playwright and professor
who holds an endowed chair in English at Simmons College, where
he is director of the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center. When we
meet, he is preparing to leave for China, where has spent much of
his time in recent years. The life he is living probably was not
what he envisioned when he was a child named Michael S. Weaver growing
up in an African-American family in 1950s Baltimore, or during the
15 years he spent as a factory worker. And I can’t help thinking
that the story of his journey lies in his name.
became Afaa M. Weaver when the Nigerian playwright Tess Onwueme
gave him a name from the Ibo language.
means oracle,” Weaver says. “It is a good name for a
poet because an oracle is a person who can clarify things in the
has a Chinese name, Wei Yafeng. “Wei” means flourishing
or blossoming. “Yafeng” is the title of a section from
the oldest anthology of Chinese poetry and carries implications
of middle age. Weaver says he asked his Chinese godfather, who gave
him the name, to add a “radical,” or character, that
indicates grass growing.
the chain of events so logically you think it could have happened
to anyone: At first, while working in a factory, he began studying
with my balance,” he explains, meaning physical balance, but
noting that, as he began struggling with depression, it seemed to
help him maintain emotional balance as well. Weaver continued practicing
tai chi casually as he began writing poetry, saw his work published,
founded a literary journal, and began freelancing for newspapers
like the Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Chicago Tribune.
He was still dabbling in tai chi when he published his first poetry
collection, Water Song; when he was awarded a National Endowment
for the Arts fellowship; and when he completed his B.A. and M.F.A.
And when, teaching
at Rutgers University, he experienced congestive heart failure,
he added more intensive practice of tai chi to his medical regimen.
my health,” he says, “ and I thought maybe Chinese culture
was something important in my life.” So when he was awarded
a Fulbright scholarship, he chose to study in Taiwan.
he has written poems in Chinese, including some he considers among
his best. And even symbolism from the Kabbalah has found its way
into his poetry as this weaver has brought together disparate strands
of far-flung cultures.
have been different manifestations,” he explains. “At
first I was writing about the United States, north and south. My
Father’s Geography is part of that. Timber and Prayer
I saw as my last ‘migration’ book. Then there is the
inner movement of Talisman and Multitudes. At
this point I can look back and see more clearly what I was doing.
a blessing for a poet to know you don’t always have to figure
it out. It’s kind of a gift that requires a self-knowledge
and self-awareness that are not always available to you, especially
when you’re younger. One should always hope for surprises.”
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can see past City Type columns at www.ellensteinbaum.com.