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January 31, 2008AWP Conference, Hilton Hotel, New York City From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Major Jackson was born and raised in Philadelphia, where he pursued his degree in accounting at Temple University.

In the late 1990s, he joined the Dark Room Collective, an organization that gave greater visibility to emerging and established writers of color and included Thomas Sayers Ellis, John Keene, Janice Lowe, Carl Phillips, Tracy K. Smith, Sharan Strange, Natasha Trethewey, Artress Bethany White, and Kevin Young, among others.

He is the author of Holding Company (W. W. Norton, 2010) and Hoops (W. W. Norton, 2006), both of which were finalists for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature-Poetry, as well as Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia, 2002), winner of the 2001 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and a finalist for a National Book Critics Award Circle. 

He is a recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. He also was a creative arts fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Jack Kerouac Writer-in-Residence at University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Currently, he serves as the poetry editor of the Harvard Review.

Jackson teaches at the Bennington Writing Seminars and University of Vermont, where he is the Richard Dennis Green and Gold Professor. He lives in South Burlington, Vermont.

Letter to Brooks [Spring Garden]

Major Jackson, 1968
          1.

When you have forgotten (to bring into 
   Play that fragrant morsel of rhetoric, 
Crisp as autumnal air), when you 
   Have forgotten, say, sun-lit corners, brick 
   Full of skyline, rowhomes, smokestacks, 
Billboards, littered rooftops & wondered 
What bread wrappers reflect of our hunger, 

          2. 

When you have forgotten wide-brimmed hats, 
   Sunday back-seat leather rides & church, 
The doorlock like a silver cane, the broad backs 
   Swaying or the great moan deep churning, 
   & the shimmer flick of flat sticks, the lurch 
Forward, skip, hands up Ailey-esque drop, 
When you have forgotten the meaningful bop, 

          3. 

Hustlers and their care-what-may, blasé 
   Ballet and flight, when you have forgotten 
Scruffy yards, miniature escapes, the way   
   Laundry lines strung up sag like shortened 
   Smiles, when you have forgotten the Fish Man
Barking his catch in inches up the street 
"I've got porgies. I've got trout. Feeesh 

          4. 

Man," or his scoop and chain scale, 
   His belief in shad and amberjack; when 
You have forgotten Ajax and tin pails, 
   Blue crystals frothing on marble front 
   Steps Saturday mornings, or the garden 
Of old men playing checkers, the curbs 
White-washed like two lines out to the burbs, 

          5. 

Or the hopscotch squares painted new 
   In the street, the pitter-patter of feet 
Landing on rhymes. "How do you 
   Like the weather, girls? All in together girls,
   January, February, March, April... " 
The jump ropes' portentous looming, 
Their great, aching love blooming. 

          6. 

When you have forgotten packs of grape 
   Flavored Now & Laters, the squares 
Of sugar flattening on the tongue, the elation 
   You felt reaching into the corner-store jar, 
   Grasping a handful of Blow Pops, candy bars 
With names you didn't recognize but came 
To learn. All the turf battles. All the war games. 

          7. 

When you have forgotten popsicle stick 
   Races along the curb and hydrant fights,
Then, retrieve this letter from your stack 
   I've sent by clairvoyant post & read by light.
   For it brought me as much longing and delight. 
This week's Father's Day; I've a long ride to Philly.
I'll give this to Gramps, then head to Black Lily. 

From Hoops, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 2006 by Major Jackson. Used with permission.

From Hoops, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 2006 by Major Jackson. Used with permission.

Major Jackson

Major Jackson

Major Jackson was born and raised in Philadelphia, where he pursued his degree in accounting at Temple University.

In the late 1990s, he joined the Dark Room Collective, an organization that gave greater visibility to emerging and established writers of color and included Thomas Sayers Ellis, John Keene, Janice Lowe, Carl Phillips, Tracy K. Smith, Sharan Strange, Natasha Trethewey, Artress Bethany White, and Kevin Young, among others.

by this poet

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I'm glum about your sportive flesh in the empire of blab,
and the latest guy running his trendy tongue like a tantalizing surge
over your molars, how droll. Love by a graveyard is redundant,
but the skin is an obstacle course like Miami where we are 
inescapably consigned: tourists keeping the views new.
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“I trust your Garden was willing to die ...