Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Marcus Jackson’s book of poems Pardon My Heart

I recently did a poetry reading at The Book Loft, a wonderful independent bookstore in Columbus, Ohio. The Book Loft is one of those safe harbors where you can browse to your heart’s content in a labyrinth of levels, leaf through books on benches in their garden, or hear authors reading their work.

The author I had the great pleasure of reading with was Marcus Jackson, poet and instructor in the MFA programs at The Ohio State University and Queens University of Charlotte. 

Poet Marcus Jackson
Since the reading, I’ve been pouring over his book Pardon My Heart, published in 2018 by TriQuarterly Books. It’s an amazing collection of poems, utterly sophisticated and polished in the poet’s use of metaphor and the music of words, and deeply grounded in streetwise, North American urban life.

My daughter Miranda attended the reading that Marcus and I did in Columbus—she’s used to hearing her dad's poems about topics that relate to the angst of graying hippies.  She was surprised by how much she could relate to Marcus's writing. “I felt his writing resonated with the millennial esprit,” she enthused. What’s so terrific about Pardon My Heart is that the poet not only speaks of growing up in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and the world of pickup lines in bars, new marriages, and babysitters, Marcus Jackson writes about those topics with all the polish and panache of an author who’s been doing this for decades.

Here’s a short poem from Pardon My Heart where Marcus Jackson reflects on his mother:


Filling with my mother’s smolderings,
this tawny, six-sided, three-pound glass dish
has sat forty years at the table’s center.
During lapses in labor or happiness,
Mother smoked Merit after Merit, her mind
a crowded parlor of plans, self-hate,
and urgent glimpses of encounters long past.
She split the skin atop my father’s skull
once with this ashtray as he grabbed her.
Weekly, after she emptied and washed it, Friday’s light
entered the drafty sash and upheld this ashtray
as the crown of one woman’s quiet country.

This moving portrait, a capsule history of a family in twelve lines, is studded with dazzling details. In line 1, the ashtray holds the mother’s “smolderings,” which tells us so much about her temperament and fate. The word “lapses” in line 4 gives us in one word the understanding that labor and happiness were major parts of her being in the world. The brand of her smokes, Merits, is a both a tribute to the mom and a word that adds to the alliteration in a line where that repetition suggests chain smoking. When violence explodes in line 8, the poet describes it in perfect iambic pentameter: “She split the skin atop my father’s skull,” with the rhythm reinforcing the hammer of the ashtray. By the end of the poem, the author has alchemized this commonplace ashtray into a crown, testimony to the mother’s creating tranquility for her child in a stormy world.

Marcus Jackson also describes African American life with insight, irony, and pathos. In the poem “Homage to My Wife’s Hips,” he writes

In the presence of her hips, thin
White women lower their heads
like children who’ve broken a dish.

Another amazing metaphor, from a poet who is so adept at them.

Marcus Jackson has the heart, the craft, and the intellect of an important poet. Enjoy his work!

How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe TankaThe Villanelle
Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer
Writers and Collaboration
Types of Closure in Poetry

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