“Major Jackson makes poems that rumble and rock.” —Dorianne Laux
“Jackson knows the truth of black magic. It is a magic as simple as the belief in humanity that subverts racism, or the esoteric and mystical magic of making jazz, the music of hope and love.” —Aafa Weaver
Major Jackson is the author of four collections of poetry: Roll Deep (2015, Norton); Holding Company (2010, Norton); Hoops (2006, Norton); and Leaving Saturn (2002, University of Georgia Press). Holding Company and Hoops were both selected as finalists for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry; and Leaving Saturn, awarded the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. He has published poems and essays in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tin House, and in Best American Poetry (2004, 2011). He is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, 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.
Jackson has served as a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Antioch University, a creative arts fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence at Baruch College. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Xavier University of Louisiana, and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell as the Jack Kerouac Writer-in-Residence. He is a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Major Jackson lives in South Burlington, Vermont, where he is the Richard Dennis Green and Gold Professor at the University of Vermont. He serves as the Poetry Editor of The Harvard Review.
Major Jackson is the author of four collections of poetry: Roll Deep; Holding Company; Hoops; and Leaving Saturn, which was awarded the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. His poems and essays have appeared in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Poetry, Tin House, and in Best American Poetry. He is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, 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.
ROLL DEEP (Poetry, 2015)
This breakthrough volume appropriates the vernacular notion of “rolling deep” to explore human intimacy and war. The poems in Roll Deep are whimsical, urbane, and introspective, seeking a rhythmic sound that expresses the realities of the twenty-first century. Whether about child soldiers in Dadaab, a refugee camp in East Kenya, or human intimacy, the poems build community across borders of language and style.
HOLDING COMPANY (Poetry, 2010)
“Jackson explores new territory—the realm of the ecstatic.” —Poets & Writers
In Holding Company, Major Jackson explores art, literature, and music as a kingdom, or an empire, a dark, seductive force in our lives. In an effort to understand desire, beauty, and love as transient anodynes to metaphysical loneliness, he invokes Constantine Cavafy, Pablo Neruda, Anna Akhmatova, and Dante Rossetti.
The stillness of a lover’s mouth
assaulted me. I never wearied of anecdotes
on the Commons, gesturing until I scattered
myself into a luminance, shining over a city
of women. Was I less human or more? I hear still
my breathing echoing off their pillows. So many
eyes like crushed flowers. Our fingers splayed
over a bed’s edge. We were blown away.
HOOPS (Poetry, 2006)
“The slangy title of Jackson’s second collection is a layered metaphor, implying, among other things, basketball, jewelry, and life’s hurdles. Jackson seems to define himself by his eclecticism; he reveres basketball players as much as poets. Recalling his early life in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood, he draws nourishment from a sense of his acuity: ‘My breathing / was older than me.’ His poems are witty, musical, and intelligent; he is equally happy discussing the war on terror—’An empire croons, toughed-up in a trance”‘—or describing early crushes: ‘The swagger / behind their blue-tinted sunglasses and low-rider / jeans hurt boys like me.’ Other subjects include Columbine, Tupac Shakur, iPods, and, above all, the condition and future of the black poet. In a final flourish of contrast, Jackson writes an epistolary poem to Gwendolyn Brooks, in a recognizable, albeit flexible, rhyme royal.” —The New Yorker
This downpour of bad reasoning, this age-old swarm,
this buzzing about town, this kick and stomp
through gardens, this snag on the way to the mall,
this heap and toss of fabric and strewn shoes, this tangled
beauty, this I came here not knowing, here
to be torched, this fumbling ecstasy, this spray of lips
and fingers, this scrape of bone, this raid
of private grounds, this heaving and rocking, this scream
and push, this sightless hunger, this tattered perishing,
this rhythmic teeth-knocking, this unbearable
music, this motionless grip, grimace, and groan.
—from Holding Company
The backyard garden wall is mossy green
and flakes a craggy mound of chips. Nearby
my grandfather kneels between a row of beans
and stabs his shears into earth. I squint an eye,
a comma grows at his feet. The stucco’s
an atlas, meshed-wire continents with leaders
who augured hate, hence ruins, which further sow
discontent. We are weeding, marking borders,
a million taproots stacked in shock. Forty years
from a three-story, he has watched the neighborhood,
postwar marble steps, a scrubbed frontier
of Pontiacs lining the curb, fade to a hood.
Pasture of wind-driven litter swirls among greasy
bags of takeouts. Panicles of nightblasts
cap the air, a corner lot of broken TVs empties
and spills from a suitcase of hurt. Life amassed,
meaningless as a trampled box of Cornflakes.
When a beggar cupped for change outside
a check-cashing place then snatched his wallet,
he cleaned a .22 revolver & launched this plot. Tidal
layers of cement harden men born gentle as the root
crops tended south, the city its own bitter shrine.
We crouch by watering cans. He pulls a paradise of kale
and shakes root-dirt that snaps like a shadow lost in time.
Tomato vines coil by a plot of herbs. Far from the maddening
caravan of fistfights, jacked-rides, drunkards,
my pen takes aim from the thumbnail of his yard.