Washington Square

Major Jackson

When all that cautions the eyes toward the imminentslide of autumn to arctic winds, the canopy of English elmand sycamore leaves like colored coins fall and widena hole letting more light spill in, heaven’s almsto earth whose ashen gray and white will soon be all the rage,our guilty secret is the baby grand playing Glass’s OrphéeSuite for Piano. Nearby Butoh dancers writhe & almost upstagewith white-painted faces of horror (portraits of Nagasaki?),and past the fountain’s water plumes, a drug-riddled coupleshares the smoldering remains of an American Spirit,their grizzled dog roped to a shopping cart and frayed duffelbag, this city’s updated version of American Gothic.Our reddish-haired pianist lets the melancholic notesfloat to high-rises on Fifth above its triumphal arch,like a film in reverse where the golden foliage is read by a poetas autumn’s light pours in. “Don’t Get Around MuchAnymore,” The Ink Spots’ Decca cover spins on a phonograph,an era spiraling soft then held by his gentle pen.

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Marion Ettlinger

Major Jackson is the author of five volumes of poetry, including The Absurd Man, Roll Deep, and Leaving Saturn, which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems. He has edited Best American Poetry 2019 and is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He has been awarded a Pushcart Prize and a Whiting Writers’ Award, and his work has appeared in American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, and the Paris Review, among other publications. The poetry editor of the Harvard Review, Jackson lives in South Burlington, Vermont, where he is a University Distinguished Professor at the University of Vermont.

Inspired by Albert Camus’s seminal Myth of Sisyphus, Major Jackson’s fifth volume subtly configures the poet as “absurd hero” and plunges headfirst into a search for stable ground in an unstable world. We follow Jackson’s restless, vulnerable speaker as he ponders creation in the face of meaninglessness, chronicles an increasingly technological world and the difficulty of social and political unity, probes a failed marriage, and grieves his lost mother with a stunning, lucid lyricism.

"Poems in Major Jackson’s The Absurd Man are fashioned from masks and personae, impersonations and thrown voices. How ironic then that this fifth and most daring book yet sings deeply, solemn and vulnerable, a blues for our times. One of the root meanings of the word absurd is ‘out of tune.’ To be out of tune with these years of American absurdity, Jackson’s adroit lyrics resonate through a kind of fission, the collision of selves and personal histories yielding a most genuine ore. These poems face the music of their own making."
—Gregory Pardlo, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Digest

"At the end of his richly introspective and engagingly vulnerable collection, The Absurd Man, Major Jackson, referring to his double self, also a character in the collection, observes wryly, ‘Tragically, he believes he can mend his wounds with his poetry.’ And in this everything hopeful, elegant, daring, and unsettlingly absurd about The Absurd Man is spoken. Jackson embraces the existential absurdity of this ‘tragedy’ and yet, in doing so, he gives us poems that dare to challenge hopelessness with language."
—Kwame Dawes, author of City of Bones

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