In solidarity with the June 2020 protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, Poem-a-Day will be dedicated to featuring Black poets, engaging a number of Black curators throughout the summer to guest edit the series in two-week installments. In this short Q&A, Major Jackson discusses his curatorial approach for June 22–July 3 and his own creative work.
Poets.org: How did you approach curating Poem-a-Day?
Major Jackson: As I write, many of us around the globe are currently experiencing unprecedented feelings of grief and rage, emotions which have the potential of rendering us isolated from each other, at times even from our closest relatives and friends. The ongoing struggle for dignity as a human being is exacerbated further by a global health crisis that seems to rage unabated throughout our communities.
To read poems feels urgent, a sanctifying act of survival. As a result, I sought poems that embed a sense of regard for life and not a denial, that uphold the inviolability of selfhood, that reach for joy, celebration, and understanding amidst sorrow and the inexplicable, poems that memorialize wonder and the creativity. Ultimately, for both reader and writer, I believe these poems authenticate the imagination and inner life as necessary refuge, and do so in such a way that we feel renewed by the exhilarating strangeness and palpable presence of someone witnessing our age.
Poets.org: If you could direct readers to one poem in our collection at Poets.org that you haven’t curated, what would it be and why?
MJ: What a task! Many poems come to mind, but through reflecting on my comments above, especially as regards the agency and hallowed nature of poetry, I recommend Elizabeth Alexander’s “Ars Poetica #1,002: Rally.” I have longed enjoyed this poem for how it opens up an ethical space for poetry that protests, sure, but also quietly consecrates and serves as evidence of the human spirit: “...a poem is a living thing // made by living creatures / (live voice in a small box) // and as life / it is all that can stand // up to violence.” The poem undertakes other conversations, particularly the performative nature of fathers, but I have turned to this poem to reorient me towards the continuity of poetry whenever I have transitory thoughts about the political futility of my own words.
Poets.org: Who are you reading right now?
MJ: I have several galley’s in front of me, forthcoming books that I predict will do more than find their erstwhile readers: Joshua Bennett’s Owed and Alexandria Hall’s Field Music. These two poets are vital voices, emphatic makers in the truest sense. Their poems flood my mind with the possibilities of the art. Ed Pavlic’s new book Let It Be Broke is so relevant in its illuminations on race, it is hard to believe any serious reader will miss the opportunity to see how he interrogates the terms that bind us, literally, while charting his own growth as a thinker. I am looking forward to diving into The Essential Clarence Major: Prose & Poetry as well as Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s Seeing the Body.
Poets.org: What are you working on now in your writing, teaching, or publishing life?
MJ: I’ve several projects on deck including an essay collection, and am attempting, alas, to finally gather new and previously published poems in the Urban Renewal sequence into a single volume.