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Thursday, March 28, 2013 11:08 am

Carefully crafted poems of imagery

Springfield professor debuts new book


Brian Jackson, Ph.D., and the cover of his new book of poetry.

Judging from his new book of poetry From Delancey West (forthcoming by BlazeVOX [books]), Springfield poet Brian Jackson will not be poetry slamming any time soon. This is no insult. This is just to say that Jackson’s work situates him squarely as an Imagist and a worthy follower of Guillaume Apollinaire and Ezra Pound. That’s ‘old school’ in the turn of the 20th century meaning of the phrase (as opposed to, say, the Kurtis Blow sense of idiom), and this style doesn’t naturally or easily fall into the cult of instant comprehension that seems to hold sway over so much current poetry.

The 29 carefully crafted poems in this volume make demands on the reader. (I recommend having a dictionary and a copy of Paul Fussell’s Poetic Meter and Poetic Form within easy reach.) But these poems offer rewards. They are metrically pleasing. They are deeply felt and often wry, and, when Jackson is at his best, his image progression is the work of a maestro.

Take, for example, these seven lines from “Waves:”

The bars of this prison are made out of glass.

White sand washed by the wavelets
 salt rings round the sailor’s trousers
 eyes burned by the sun
 his spare rags flutter in the breeze
 and the glass house glints in the distance.

Circle upon circle, wave upon wave

As in many of Jackson’s poems, imagery is the surest window in. The first (and recurring, “circle upon circle, wave upon wave”) image in the poem is visceral. The to and fro blackness of lines on the page evoke the moist parabolas that waves leave on the firmly packed sand at the sea shore as they continuously reach and recede. This is likely a nod to the concrete poetry of Apollinaire (poems typeset in the shape of objects such as the Eiffel Tower or a woman wearing a hat). (Jackson makes more than one textual allusion to Apollinaire in this collection.)

Rhythm likewise follows suit, with groupings of mainly stressed syllables swaying between groupings of unstressed. The language pounds forward on stressed syllables (“White sand washed”) then recedes with a sequence of unstressed (“by the”) and surges forward again on the stressed (“wavelets”).

Not surprisingly the imagery follows the back and forth patterning of the line lengths and the prosody. First is a house of glass, and, in the next line, that image recedes into its base elements, sand washed by wavelets (which is how glass is formed). Then Jackson presents the imagery of salt and burning eyes, which evoke tears (droplets of salt water, a microcosmic image of the sea). Similarly the image of trousers degrades into rags fluttering in the distance. And when all images are crashed upon the shore and broken, a new stanza washes up, with the images fully re-formed: The sand and waves have now become a “glass house” that “glints in the distance.” This house, the pattern suggests, won’t last long. All images in this poem (maybe in this world) become “circle upon circle.”

This is not the stuff of a coffeehouse poem, and these are not intended as fast food, empty calorie, get-it-and-go verses for a Thursday night audience. These are satisfying poems to be chewed through thoroughly and enjoyed thoughtfully.  

Rodd Whelpley is the author of Capital Murder, a mystery set in Springfield.

Brian Jackson, along with fellow poet John Knoepfle (Shadows and Starlight), will sign copies of their books on Wednesday, April 3 from 5-7 p.m. at Holy Land Dinner, 107 W. Cook St. Both books will be available at the special price of $12 each or $20 for both. You can also purchase Jackson’s book online for $16 from amazon.com or blazevox.org.

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