Monday, October 21, 2019

TBR: Scattered Clouds: New and Selected Poems by Reuben Jackson

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?

My poetic efforts attempt to honor the places and people who had, and still have, a deep impact on the way I view the world.  I often semi-jokingly borrow the title (tweaked, mind you) of an NPR program called This American Life. My version would be This African American Life. 

What boundaries did you break in the writing of this book? Where does that sort of courage come from?

I am happiest about the continued emergence of my emotional honesty. We (and when I say we, I mean my peers, my boys, my posse) taught ourselves how to sublimate (if not suffocate) our “feels”, as the kids say these days.  I got really good at it.  This time around, there isn’t as much humor as emotional deflection.  I pray it continues.

The Amir and Khadijah section of the book is as close as I will ever come to playing
Ballads like Miles Davis.   (Dear Diary- I fell in love.. once. Got some poems out of
It… )  The hardest were the poems with references to cancer.  My body and my life
were too much in shock to delve as much as I should have.  But I wanted the poems to be “a graph of me”— as Amiri Baraka once said.  

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

I never expected to publish a book again….  When asked, I felt like someone being asked to dance at the prom. The lows?   The anxiety surrounding the book’s birth. Would people hate it? Laugh as if it were an item of clothing from, say, the late 1960s? I mean, it has been… ahem… 20 years…..

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Keep moving the thematic furniture around. Revision is possibility!

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

I would have to say the fact that my longing (which has always been a kind of screaming secret) made its way into a few of the poems.

How did you find the title of your book?

Scattered Clouds came to me after a walk in Central Park–early December 1989.  It was my initial choice for the book which became fingering the keys.  People (which includes editor-type people) thought the title was too somber.  In retrospect,  it is a better fit for the newer poems, which don’t shy away from themes of loss and longing.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?

Would this include the bourbon I consumed while assembling the manuscript?





DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.