Saturday, September 4, 2010

Major Jackson as Editor

75º ~ glorious, a sun that doesn't raise a blinding heat, perfect long weekend weather

Still slowly making my way through the Sept/Oct issue of Poets & Writers.  This morning, I'm reading the profile of Major Jackson, written by Mary Gannon.  While the background information and the interview questions about Jackson's poetry are interesting, especially his use of the 10-line form, the questions about Jackson's work as the editor of Harvard Review are the ones that have me underlining and starring his words.

When asked for a summary of what he sees "going on in contemporary poetry," Jackson says this:

"It all just strikes me as utterly and overly familiar -- the mom poem, the father poem, poems about family that seem overly wrought.  The poems that I'm attracted to, at least as an editor, are those that make me swallow my cynicism, that make me go, 'Here is a mother poem, but it's doing something else either with the language or the form that allows me another doorway into that topic.'  ... The language isn't dead.  (Yikes!  I've written about family a lot...better go back and check to make sure those poems aren't lifeless on the page.)

"Other things I see -- overexperimentation.  What I call overly inventive poems that are not making a reach toward the human; they are so much more about pastiche."  (This sentence got a double star from me.)

He explains further:
"And we've had now since modernism almost a hundred years of experimentation in poetry.  I'm not sure we can do much more than what we've already done.  So people are passing it off as inventive and experimental and it really isn't."

Then, he ends with this:
"But mainly, it's the middle-of-the road poem"
Jackson goes on to challenge us all as poets to be radical and have a "vision for the human."  Wow!

Whenever I read this kind of interview, it makes me turn immediately to my own work with a more critical eye and really ask: have I raised the stakes here?  does this go beyond the mundane?  have I made it new in a way that another reader will find that "vision for the human" in it?  I'm thankful for the reminder.


Susan Rich said...

Hi Sandy,

I appreciated what Major said here, too, in terms of editing. I also appreciated that he accepted a poem of mine, "Interview" with the line "pour the past away, skip the shit of memory." The poem had visited many other editors and I couldn't help feeling that that one little word was the issue as all my other Bosnia poems were quickly scooped up. I'll be reading with him in Seattle in April --- Full disclosure: he and I are U of Oregon graduates although we weren't there at the same time.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Wow, Susan, that's great. Jackson seems like a wonderful asset to the poetry community. Sorry I can't be in Seattle to hear you both.

Charlotte Pence said...

Great post, Sandy. Thank you. This issue of poems sounding over-familiar is critical. I would even say it is a type of sentimentalism that has crept into poetry that otherwise values hard-nosed honesty.

Sandy Longhorn said...'ve stated one of my big fears as a poet...the diluted mirroring of those poems that inspire me. Still, it's good to be aware!