Before sitting down to write this post, I had just arrived back home from a reading hosted by Late Night Library, a literary organization here in Portland (where I happen to intern). The small gathering took place at Literary Arts, a nonprofit literary center also in Portland, and after everyone had a chance to fill their plates with food and grab a glass of wine, we sat in a room, lined with bookshelves, and listened to author Scott Hutchins, who wrote A Working Theory of Love, and poet Marcus Jackson, who has been featured in the New Yorker and published a collection of poems Neighborhood Register.
Although Scott Hutchins is an excellent writer, this post will focus on Marcus Jackson. I had read very little of Marcus’s poetry before the reading, and I’m happy about that. It’s like discovering a new band after they’ve already released a few albums (Portugal, The Man–for me); so you have a bit of catching up to do, but, really who are we kidding, you’ll enjoy every minute of it. His poetry was captivating and I instantly wanted to hear more. The tone of his poems is honest, blunt, and accessible.
After the reading, I approached Marcus in the hopes of soliciting some writing advice, but instead we talked about the city, his life in New York before he and his wife moved to Nashville, and my own trip from Southern California to Portland for graduate school. When I asked the poet about how he approaches poetry, he told me a piece of advice his own professor gave him while he was attending graduate school at NYU:
“He told me that a poet should never use words like happy, sad, angry–their writing should show their readers those emotions for them.”
In his own writing, Marcus told me that he tries to be objective as he can about the world. When describing loved ones or the way a place looks, disregard your own feelings, biases, or perception and just focus on the details. Write what you see, and that’s what others will see too.
Marcus’s advice may seem too simple at first, but I find that writers who are still learning to perfect their craft tend to over explain every emotion, or they fill their poems with flowery language. By the time I finish reading, I might say, “Well, that sounds nice, but I have no idea what just happened”. Marcus’s own poetry is articulate, but instead of having to read each poem with a thesaurus in hand, I find myself living the moment with the speaker.
Click here to read “Mary at the Tattoo Shop.”
– Melanie Figueroa