The Cortland Review


Richard Jackson
  "Language-Driven Poetry: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PRINCIPLE OF GENERATING POEMS" begins with Dante and Petrarch and walks us through poems of Wordsworth, Keats, Robert Frost, Andre Breton, Cesare Pavese, Richard Wilbur, Wislawa Szymborska, Anna Akhmatova, all the way to Heather McHugh to demonstrate that the imaginative vision possible to us through poetry exists not in the dressing up of ideas, feelings or events that the poet tries to find words to describe, but in its exploration of language, "not merely a record, but a gesture always trying to escape itself, escape our human condition towards something universalÖ"

Richard Jackson

"Place Message Here",
"Letter From Slovenia",
"Letter From Tuscany",
"Letter to Stern From Arezzo",
and "If I Can't Love You", all new poems by Richard Jackson

Robert Bly

An interview by Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, a special audio program of The Paula Gordon Show.

Christian Wiman
"A Darker Shade of Grey: Christian Wimanís Hard Night," a review by Chelsea Rathburn points to Wimanís work as expression of the poetís awesome responsibility to the power of language. "What words or harder gift/ does the light require of me," Wiman writes, "carving from the dark/ this difficult tree?"
HARD NIGHT Copper Canyon Press, 2005.

Richard Jackson

Richard JacksonRichard Jackson is the author of 9 books of poems, most recently Half Lives: Petrarchan Poems (Autumn House, 2004), Unauthorized Autobiography: New and Selected Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2003), Heartwall (University of Massachusetts, 2000), winner of the Juniper Prize, Svetovi Narazen (Slovenia, 2001), a limited edition small press book, Falling Stars: A Collection of Monologues (Flagpond Press, 2002) and Richard Jackson: Greatest Hits (2004). His own poems have been translated into a dozen languages. He has edited two anthologies of Slovene poetry: The Fire Under the Moon and Double Vision: Four Slovenian Poets (Aleph, 1993), is editor of Poetry Miscellany and Mala Revija, a journal of Slovene culture and literature as well as an eastern Europoean Chapbook Series. The author of a book of criticism, The Dismantling of Time in Contemporary American Poetry (Agee Prize), and Acts of Mind: Interviews With Contemporary American Poets (Choice Award), he has had essays and reviews in Georgia Review, Verse, Contemporary Literature, Boundary 2, Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner aamong numerous journals and anthologies. In 2000 he received the Order of Freedom Medal for literary and humanitarian work in the Balkans, awarded by the President of Slovenia. He has Guggenheim, NEA, NEH, Witter-Bynner and Fulbright Fellowships, 5 Pushcart Prizes and awards for excellence in teaching from UT-Chattanooga and Vermont College's M.F.A. program.

Richard Jackson - Poetry


Place Message Here    Click to hear in real audio

I knew that somewhere Jesus wept.
     --Larry Brown, Dirty Work

That was when our love began for me, though late,
the way a flock of darkness settles over your shoulders.
I remember the muted reflections that smudged the water
prowling among the lingering rocks, a snail crawling
out of its shell, the drizzle of light, the blackened windows.
It was when that the sun peeled away the dark from the air,
the surface of the water, then the soul. It was only then
that I could read the shadows that followed our words.
It seemed that the whole planet was taking aim at our future.

I thought, then, that I could see your own soul in the constant
waves tearing unconcerned at the impenetrable dunes.
I wanted, then, to believe the moon is a flower,
fragrant, its stem tossed across the water. It was then
that I entered some other world, the way your life wakes
suddenly in the middle of the night to find your own
worn-out dreams lying in sheets around you, an empty bottle
on the table, and yet some voice stumbling down the hallway
of the wind trying the locked doors of the heart, calling out your name.

It was then on that shore after I heard the news of my friend's
heart tearing open like a wet paper bag. I was standing
where Marconi sent his messages which seemed to fill the air,
still, like swallows. There is always another life in the corner
of our eyes, one that begins because our poor words have never
said what we meant at the time. Today, here, ladybugs fill
my porch screen trying to reach the early sun that radiates
through the fine mesh. They halt there like messages never
received, empty husks of some abandoned future we can never know.

Why is it we love so fully what has washed up on the beaches
of our hearts, those lost messages, lost friends, the daylight stars
we never get to see? Bad luck never takes a vacation, my friend
once wrote. It lies there among the broken shells and stones
we collect, a story he would say begins with you, with me,
a story that is forever lost among the backwaters of our lives,
our endless fear of ourselves, and our endless need for hope,
a story, perhaps an answer, a word suddenly on wing, the simple
sound of a torn heart, or the unmistakable scent of the morning's fading moon.



Letter From Slovenia    Click to hear in real audio

—for my granddaughter, Anna Marie Thomson

I once stepped into the same river twice.
That was when I had a constellation stuck
in my throat. You were waiting on one of those
stars to be born. Today a bee's wing creates
enough wind to drench the planets. The moon
begins to untangle the shadows which
the mountain tries to tie to its cliffs. Each beat
of your heart shakes a few other stars awake.
I hope you never have to know the horrors
that cover the newspaper I am trying to write
over. Even the river pauses to listen to its own
reflections. All the children are Angels, the taxi driver
said in Baltimore last month, quoting the Koran,
but in the first few weeks we all look
like the same kidney bean. I can see you
chasing butterflies and pigeons the way
your mother did. This is how my skin can hold
the memory of your touch though you should not
arrive for another week now which is exactly when
the sky will have to borrow another color
if it wants to still be the sky. You will know
your own mother as the sound of running water,
your father as the fallen petals that show
which way the water flows. When I touched
the statue of Madonna dell'Orto in Venice
for you the other day, a white chalk stuck to my hands
and I held my own clouds to the sky. What holds
the clouds up so effortlessly? Now the moss
breaks loose from the river's stones. Clouds drift
away from their roots. The river thinks
it can run uphill. Someday, when there are
only my words for you, you will hear them
as the timpani of stars. Today a hawk
flew next to the car before darting out
across the fields. I thought it was you. Each
word, each gesture, is a feather for our wings. Later,
I ran down that mountain and landed in your name.



Letter From Tuscany    Click to hear in real audio

—For My Granddaughter, Emily Frances Thomson

Inside you, a dream has begun to ignite the stems
Of flowers. Now that you have arrive, this Tuscan
Sky seems full of seeds. Where you are, I watched,
With your sister, a shadow that seemed to promise your shape.
The tree above me is tattooed with swallows. A few
Dart around this table. I think they are memories
From your future. I think the train in the valley below is
Searching, like me, to find a world that doesn't
Exist yet. By then, there will be no need
To worry about the wars and tortures, the drizzle
In our hearts from this tangle of hours you'll hear about
Later on. Now, even the rocky light holds
The hills in its hands. The clouds are stroking
Their bald crests. I can almost slip my own arms
Into the sleeves of the wind—it smudges the slender
Olive leaves. Now the dark is folding the hills up
For the night. I am this happy: my pockets full of
Butterflies, each breath setting off on its own
Road. There's a distant smoke waiting for its fire.
The whistle is waiting somewhere for the train. I will
Have to learn the language of roots. The moon's
Flour covering the trees. Your words for mother,
Father, sister, light, swallow, love.
The life you have before you have a life.



Letter To Stern From Arezzo    Click to hear in real audio

What is the word for the way starlight spins
itself out to become dawn? Or the way the first
breeze tries to brush away desire while the heart's
thin web hangs last night's words by a thread?
I lay beside her as simply as day lays beside night,
the future hanging in front of me like a curtain,
the night birds eating the silence, watching the way
her skin moved across her ribs with each breath,
a kind of symphony for the soul, tracing the soft
underside of her breasts, soaked as I was
in her words and her love. It no longer matters
if I once flung my grief out across the pond stars.
It no longer matters that my heart had been covered
with moss, that I had worried where our shadows
hide each night. Now I am walking in this vineyard
brushing against the flowers that will blossom
into grapes as they have for hundreds of years,
vineyard to the Medicis, those patrons of arts
and wars, drinking a little wine, this Brunello,
loving again the way the early swallows sweep
the vine tops for gnats, the way the morning sun
undresses the poppy, its dew, unfolding my own soul
for love, following my footsteps or letting them
follow me, it no longer matters, because love returns
each morning whether we call it blossom, star, moon,
heart, shadow, whatever she is that changes our lives,
as quietly as the olive falls from the tree, letting the wind
take me by the wrist, yes it does, the branches pointing
towards my heart, I am that certain, the way she changes
the faces of clocks, the way she molds the soul,
the way she can hold me inside her the way a violin
holds its note, the string still vibrating, the sound
entering the wood, the air, the shadows we become.



If I Can't Love You    Click to hear in real audio

If I can't love you, then I want to live on some blind sea,
Wherever the freighters squint along the horizon,
Wherever it is your look arrives from, that is, wherever
The branches dream of rain, wherever your goodbye
Grasps the stems of stars, someplace where the day
Learns to live leaf by leaf, where night quivers on the lake,
A place, this place, where I arrive even before my dreams,
Before my shadow that hobbles along still tied to the earth.

But if I can't love you, not even wherever it is your words
Arrive from, words that kiss the dust into clouds, words
That scratch the back door, that travel a road no one knows
Except for the night stopping here and there to cover an old wound,
If I can't love you then, I can no longer apologize for the world,
For the volcanic heart of the man reaching for his pistol,
For the screams held in broken glass along the highway,
For the mouths of the dead still asking for water.

If I can't love you, then I want each breath to track you
To wherever it is your look arrives from, through some fog
Muzzling the streets, over some scorpion burrowing the desert,
Beyond the canyon that refuses my echo, beyond the sky
That splinters on the horizon, wherever it is your letters
Never return from, where the eyes in the windows are all shut,
Because the assassins are alive in the stones, because
The wars are gathering their orchestras of arrogance and hate.           .

If I can't love you, then no smile can have a face of its own,
The fire of yesterday's sun has already been swept into space,
Into wherever it is your look arrives from, the way the lizard
Disappears into the rocks, the way the past is emptied from my shoes,
Because wherever it is your look arrives from, these words approach
Like miners chipping through granite, heavy with apology
And love, with a fragrant guilt that embarrasses the flowers,
Approaching a place, wherever it is, where I will deserve you.





© 2005 The Cortland Review