Major Jackson

Major Jackson Headshot

Major Jackson is the author of five books of poetry, including The Absurd Man (2020), Roll Deep (2015), Holding Company (2010), Hoops (2006) and Leaving Saturn (2002), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems. His edited volumes include: Best American Poetry 2019, Renga for Obama, and Library of America’s Countee Cullen: Collected Poems. A recipient of fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, Major Jackson has been awarded 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. He has published poems and essays in American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, Orion Magazine, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry London, and Zyzzva. Major Jackson lives in Nashville, Tennessee where he is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. He serves as the Poetry Editor of The Harvard Review.


Mighty Pawns

If I told you Earl, the toughest kid
on my block in North Philadelphia,
bow-legged and ominous, could beat
any man or woman in ten moves playing white,
or that he traveled to Yugoslavia to frustrate the bearded
masters at the Belgrade Chess Association,
you’d think I was given to hyperbole,
and if, at dinnertime, I took you
into the faint light of his Section 8 home
reeking of onions, liver, and gravy,
his six little brothers fighting on a broken love-seat
for room in front of a cracked flat-screen,
one whose diaper sags it’s a wonder
it hasn’t fallen to his ankles,
the walls behind doors exposing the sheetrock
the perfect O of a handle, and the slats
of stairs missing where Baby-boy gets stuck
trying to ascend to a dominion foreign to you and me
with its loud timbales and drums blasting down
from the closed room of his cousin whose mother
stands on a corner on the other side of town
all times of day and night, except when her relief
check arrives at the beginning of the month,
you’d get a better picture of Earl’s ferocity
after-school on the board in Mr. Sherman’s class,
but not necessarily when he stands near you
at a downtown bus-stop in a jacket a size too
small, hunching his shoulders around his ears,
as you imagine the checkered squares of his poverty
and anger, and pray he does not turn his precise gaze 
too long in your direction for fear he blames
you and proceeds to take your Queen.

From Roll Deep (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2015)


Links

“’Silences cultivate a kind of cognitive dance between reader and poem’: A Conversation with Major Jackson” by Kristina Marie Darling. Kenyon Review. 26 April 2019

“Interview with Major Jackson” by Anna van Buren. Katonah Poetry Series. 7 April 2019

“Review: The Absurd Man by Major Jackson” by Grant Schatzman. World Literature Today. Spring 2020