A few posts ago, I mentioned the latest Poets Roundup in the new issue of Poets & Writers. One poet mentioned in the section that caught my attention is Gary Jackson, author of Missing You, Metropolis. The blurb mentioned that throughout his debut collection, Jackson blends autobiographical elements of his life growing up Kansas with references to comic books. I wanted to see how well Jackson pulled off the pop culture references in his poetry, so I ordered a copy of his collection from my favorite used bookstore, Anthology New and Used Books.
Besides the nice write-up in Poets & Writers, Jackson also received accolades from Yusef Komunyakaa, who selected the book as the winner of the latest Cave Canem Poetry Prize. In his introduction to the book, Komunyakaa says, “This persona has been forged in the cauldron of popular iconography, especially in the culture of the comic book. Anything is possible in such created time and space; immediate tension exists in a climate where otherworldly figures are defined by earthly matters and concerns.”
What impresses me most about this collection is the range of voices Jackson showcases in his debut. The personas in the book include superheros such as Ironman, as well as friends, family, bystanders, and comic book readers. Jackson also proves he has an appreciation for both tradition and pop culture, as shown by the book’s opening poem “The Art of Reading the Comic Book,” dedicated to W.H. Auden.
While not all of the poems work and some may not push a working metaphor quite far enough, the poems soar when they do more than namedrop various issues of Spiderman. At their best, Jackson’s poems blend pop culture and comic book references with observations and commentary on complex issues such as race, evolving friendships, family, and ambition.
In the poem “Stuart,” Jackson presents the commentary and pop culture references well, painting a picture of two childhood friends who bonded over comic books, or maybe more than that. “Comics bonded us/Or perhaps it goes further back?/Blacks were still rare/on our street, while whites/filled the neighborhood like dead/leaves in water.’
After winning the Cave Canem prize and gaining so much attention already, it’s likely Jackson will have a long career in poetry. Check out his debut collection, Missing You, Metropolis, out now from Graywolf Press.