Major Jackson is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. His latest collection is Roll Deep (Norton: 2015), winner of the Vermont Book Award. He lives in South Burlington, Vermont with his wife, poet Didi Jackson.
I met Major Jackson about four years ago at the University of Vermont, where I had the privilege of studying with him during my time there as an undergraduate. I spoke with him over email to ask a few questions.
1. What was the first poem you fell in love with?
Gwendolyn Brooks's "Beverly Hills, Chicago," followed by Yusef Komunyakaa's "Venus's-flytraps," then Robert Duncan's "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow." When it comes to poems, I am polyamorous.
2. Why does the line break?
The line breaks because we break and reconstitute ourselves towards some terminus of exaltation.
3. What's the worst writing advice you've ever heard?
Write what you know. Writing poetry is chiefly exploratory, a cognitive act of inquiry that leads us inward to discover our multiple selves.
4. What book is in your bag or on your person right now?
Yannis Ritsos Late into the Night, Marie Howe's early copy of Magdalene (wow! wow! wow!), and Helen Oyemi's What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.
5. Is there a particular line of poetry or a quote that has stayed with you recently or obsessed you? What is it and why has it been important to you?
Again, I have many different lines that have stayed with me. The ending of Lowell's "Waking Early Sunday Morning,"
peace to our children when they fall
in small war on the heels of small
war – until the end of time
to police the earth, a ghost
orbiting forever lost
in our monotonous sublime.
and Auden's lines from "September 1, 1939,"
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
Both speak to the perpetual state of human conflict that backdrops our quotidian lives.
Bonus Question: Do you have any hidden talents?
My family will tell you I am a fine cook. Someday I hope to open a restaurant serving only soup, my specialty.