I’m not a poet, but my whole life, I’ve kept bumping into them. Four years ago, I had just moved to Lake Charles, LA from Memphis,TN for a job. At the time, my only real social outlet was the creative writing MFA students at McNeese thanks to my undergrad BFF and fellow FoA reviewer, Allie Mariano, who was one of them. This basically meant that I went to a lot of poetry readings and drank a lot of alcohol.
Every month or so, a visiting writer would come to McNeese to read their work and critique the students’ writings. One such writer was the poet Gary Jackson who had recently won the Cave Canum Poetry Prize for his book of poems, Missing You, Metropolis. Something about his reading stuck with me. After, we spoke briefly at a party, a wobbly, booze-soaked conversation (on my end, at least). To be quite honest, I don’t remember a single detail of it. What I do remember is that he seemed present and kind.
All of this is to say that I have finally gotten around to finishing that book and I’ll tell you, Gary Jackson writes poetry that I can get behind. Because that’s a thing, isn’t it? People who haven’t studied poetry are intimidated by it and assume that they won’t understand it. His use of language is straightforward and adept; he creates stories and images that even a simple poet-friend like me can connect with.
In Missing You, Metropolis, Jackson writes about the hidden lives of super heroes in a comedic but strangely realistic and human way. Batman, Superman, The Hulk, Iron Man, Spider Man, Luke Cage, Captain America- the gang’s all there. Jackson plays with these heroes in a sometimes cheeky, sometimes heartbreaking manner. Throughout the book, they reminisce about their conquests then turn around to discuss their domestic disputes. In “The Dilemma of Lois Lane,” Lois finds herself pondering love and her own mortality as compared to her nearly indestructible beau:
when we’re alone at home,
fixing dinner, you’ll pretend
to wince when you cut yourself,
and I find myself hoping
that the tiniest drop of blood
will bloom on your finger. (Lines 22-28)
Between these grand (and sometimes not so grand) characters, Jackson gives us glimpses from his own life: what it was like to grow up as a comic book loving Black kid in Kansas, the ache of adolescence, the pervasiveness of loss. The superhero theme might be enough to intrigue anyone, but I feel that it’s these intensely vulnerable and personal poems that pack the real punch. In “Machine,” Jackson recounts visiting a close friend who had presumably just attempted suicide:
Desperate to impart
some final words of empathy
that will convince him to stay with me,
I tell him it feels like a part of me
is in this place. He smiles.
A part of you is. Then laughs,
as if he realizes the world
has finally broken us
in two. (Lines 17-24)
I found that the more I read the poems, the closer I felt to the speakers. It doesn’t matter if it’s Spider Man or Batman, they are all just people really. I felt connected and understood even though my own experience has been so different from Jackson’s and believe it or not, The Incredible Hulk’s. In the end, I found these poems to be both Super and Human.