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Interview with Angela Jackson part 2

Poetic Ponderings

Part two of my Interview with the Illinois Poet Laureate Angela Jackson.

 

James Lowell Hall (JH): There is a poem of yours, The Gulf of Blues, it ends with "this gulf of blues, deep and shiny, the only place to be, between time and eternity." Are you still writing about the blues?

Angela Jackson (AJ): Oh, I've written lots about the blues. The most recent poems that I'm writing, are about the blues. I wrote a couple of poems about ZZ Hill, that great blues man, and how we went to see him at a club called The Tupelo, on the West Side. I'm planning on writing some more poems about the blues. How did you guess that that's my next project?

JH: A wild guess. I'm looking forward to reading them.

AJ: Yeah, I've already written a poem about Koko Taylor, but I'll write another. And another one called Hootchie Kootchie Man, I wrote already. But I'll write some more.

JH: Which poets have had the most significant impact on your work?

AJ: Margaret Walker and Gwendolyn Brooks, for what she taught me about the use of language, and for what she taught me about the ability to observe. I learned language, all of the intricacies of language, and what a poet could do with words. And her devotion to Black people. She looked at other Black people in a community, not only in her family.

 

JH: You also mention Margaret Walker.

AJ: Margaret Walker, yes. She was my African American literature teacher at Northwestern University. It was wonderful just being close up to that great poet and writer, because I had read her novel Jubilee before I took her class. As a matter of fact, she had a creative writing class, but it was only for upperclassmen. I tried to get in, but she wouldn't let me in. She offered to tutor me. But I told her I didn't have time, because I was in pre-med student and didn't have time to be tutored in writing. But as it turned out, I wound up just writing poetry because that was all I

wanted to do. Chemistry and calculus did not agree with me, and I did not agree with them.

JH: Margaret Walker wrote a very important poem, For My People when she was just 22 years of age. You paid homage to her in your poem For Our People.

AJ: It took 40 years to write For Our People my response to her poem. It's very important to me because I felt like it said everything I wanted to say. I still feel like it says everything I want to say, just about.

JH: What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received?

AJ: One of my church mothers told me “Tell the truth, and tell it straight, but don’t tell everything you know.” I put that in my novel.

JH: If you could go back in time and talk with an earlier you, what would you say?

AJ: Put dates on all your poems. 

JH: What is the role of poetry in times of turmoil and social upheaval such as today?

AJ: The role of poetry - transforming hearts and minds. In times of turmoil, we need poetry because we need to change hearts and minds, and the most immediate way to talk to people is through poetry. It is the language of immediacy. It speaks directly, person to person. Yeah, we need it now.

JH: What are your goals as the Poet Laureate?

AJ: As Poet Laureate, I've been able to write a grant to get four young poets to go out and do residencies bringing excitement to different communities and schools and centers. And I've also been able to do prizes, one for college students, a prize for senior citizens, and a prize for high school seniors. Poets just don't get reimbursed enough. We've sponsored a program Lift Every Voice, one major reading of wonderful women poets, Anna Castillo, Imani, Elizabeth Jackson,

Camesha Jones, Allison Joseph and Kelly Norman Ellis. The community has helped sponsor a lot of my work. I just started working on a poem in honor of the 75th anniversary of Gwendolyn Brooks great Pulitzer Prize winning book Annie Allen. I started working on a poem and it feels good.

JH: How did it feel about winning the Ruth Lilly Award? (Awarded by The Poetry Foundation, for lifetime accomplishments warranting “extraordinary recognition,” the prize is one of the most prestigious awards given to American poets.)

AJ: I was thrilled. I was so honored. I felt like I was really seen. I felt like my poems really meant something to a lot of people. I felt I had been validated and all my work had been noticed in a way that I had not been before. It felt really good!

JH: It is an honor you deserve!

AJ: Thank you so much, Dr. Hall. And I wanted to tell you how much I like your poem To a Father Dying Young. It's really such a fine poem. I really liked it. And I'm not just being polite.

 


 


Hot Fun in the Summertime

            Angela Jackson

 

Three in college at once!

Our parties in summer brought out

the best of us

citywide.

 

The windows opened to a breeze

we found

to cool our sweat

in the hothouse

where Afros bloomed.

We were the rage.

 

We danced vocabulary of intelligent toughness

One-fifty-one rum punch

not for punks or babies

who hung around the knees of the dining room table,

dancing with the chaperones.

Mama showed us how to make

a feast for dreamers and rappers

when rapping and the rap were love offerings

or wise, smooth parts of speech parting the waters

of white foam-flooded minds.

 

But these nights we were all Black.

My father danced the Uncle Willie,

turning his feet in

then splaying them out.

Country.

 

And I wish he would again.

Nobody thought it was strange,

The way we loved ourselves.

 

 

Bio: Angela Jackson is an award-winning poet, novelist, and playwright. Jackson’s collections of poetry include Voo Doo/Love MagicDark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the SpinnersAnd All These Roads Be Luminous: Poems Selected and New, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Open Book Award and a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Milt Kessler Poetry Prize. Jackson received a Pushcart Prize and an American Book Award for her chapbook Solo in the Boxcar Third Floor E.  She is the Poetry Foundation 2022 Ruth Lilly Lifetime Achievement awards for poetry.


The launch party for my first poetry collection Prairie Roots, is tonight. I hope to see you there.



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