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Format: Paperback, 95pp
Pub. Date: April 1998
Publisher: Ti Chih Ch'u Pan She
A review by Kalamu ya Salaam
This is a brave little book of poetry. Like how you stand up to the bully, knowing you going toget knocked down, or how you swallow the bile of macho conditioning and go back to that woman's door, knock, and apologize for trying to act like something somebody told you you should act like when dealing with a woman even though it meant hurting her and worse maiming the soft stuff inside yourself without which you're nothing but a shell, might as well be a machine or a block of wood, awww, believe me, baby, I'm sorry! This is that kind of book of poetry.
Mr. Weaver could have written a more thoughtful autobiography, a book full of rationalizations and witty insights; could have written a tuxedo of words to make himself look better than he does standing here in his birthday suit relaying the nakedness of emotional moments between him and the women who shared his life. Just like only a fool preaches to a lover during intimate encounters, so Mr. Weaver saves the big words, the highfalutin' phrases, the oh so intelligent insights for another time -- right now is the golden time when a few words speak volumes.
The book is divided into five sections named for five women: "Bessie" his mother, "Eleanora" his first wife, "Ronetta" his second wife, "Aissatou" his third wife, and "Mizan" his current companion/friend. You get the idea, I'm sure. And, in case you don't, there's a page at the back of the book which specifies the terms of each endearment.
What unavoidably emerges from Talisman is an emotional x-ray of Afaa Michael Weaver the man: a Baltimore born, working class Black man, whose rise up the ivory towers of academe was no high school to college to professorship idyllic trip, but instead his rise consisted of twists, turns and more than a handful of tumultuous scraps with ironies, marital disasters, bad choices resulting in tragedies, and also a fair share of humorous encounters which lighten burdens that might otherwise be too troubling to tote.
After reading Talisman, I am sure that no one will accuse Mr. Weaver of being the fastest learner in the world nor the most prescient observer of the ways of womankind. Once or twice he is so wrong you've got to wonder: is he serious? E.g. in a poem entitled "BLESSING OF A MAN" in his mother's section of the book, Weaver relays a risquC stunt his mother pulled to one up a macho-braggadocios cousin and the impact his mother's trick had on him:
Well, really? Do you really believe that a long-lasting erection is the key to sexually satisfying a woman? While I (and others) might disagree with some of Weaver's conclusions, there can be no disagreement that he is candid and forthcoming in describing realities whose importance the majority of us deny simply by declining to discuss what we be thinking, how we be feeling when we are in the grip of deep currents of feelings.
Weaver does not avoid the hard and harsh midnight moments at the crossroads. Moreover, Weaver's reminiscences are not necessarily generated by one-on-one sexual intimacies, but rather he has searched deep and surfaces momentous observations which arise out of a wide variety of chance encounters obfuscated by ignorance and/or innocent childhood misconceptions comic in their implications.
A poem for his "baby sister" Michele who "used to get / her baths on the kitchen sink." accurately illustrates how deeply Weaver has probed the inner recesses of his psychological profile in painting these portraits of a man becoming himself.
What Talisman has in abundance is the blunt honesty of the Black working class in describing the personal. This is not your typical academic "confessional poetry" whose denouement invariably includes some momentous revelations or changes in personal direction. There are no closets from which Weaver is emerging, nor any sealed boxes containing horrendous secrets. Instead, what we are presented, is just the raw facts of life laid on the table before you in all their contradictory, contrary and often confusing particulars.
Although this is intellectual reflection after the fact, it is written as straightforward description often brutal in its self-honesty. Check the ending of a painful poem entitled "MAMA'S HOODLUM":
Or check the celebration of conquest implicit in a post-coitus psalm called "SIN, 1969" which opens with the line "It was better / than anything I had /ever done in / my whole life.":
This is a book of fire and rain, the electricity of love carouses all up through here, but there is also the terror of what to do when all the lights are gone.
This is a dangerous little book not because of its intellectual rigor (a criteria males typically too often use to justify evading our emotional shadows by sticking to the artificial spotlight of rational thoughts rendered as substitutes for real feelings). This is a dangerous book not because Weaver's is right on in what he thinks, but rather Talisman is dangerous because Weaver is so honest in revealing what he feels. Such honesty is contagious.
When you read this book, especially if you are a male over thirty, you will unavoidably find yourself comparing Weaver's movement to your own life, your own relationships with the women who have mattered in shaping your manhood. Like I said, this is a dangerous little book. Indeed, anything that can inspire men to honestly look at their relationships with women is undoubtedly and welcomingly dangerous.