I just read a great interview with Major Jackson in which he discusses, among other things, how he came to write poetry and his current project “Holding Company.” It’s a great read. Here’s a taste.
AT: How much of your personal experience and research feeds into your poetry?
MJ: The creative process is a grinder into which you throw carrots, celery, lentils, shrimp, flowers, music, earrings, kisses–all of that. By the time a poem is done, I don’t know how much of my personal life is in. Granted, there may be some poems triggered by a memory, and trust me you, I’m one of those writers who is addicted to memory, but I am lying a lot of the time. I’m also addicted to the imagination. So what finds its way onto the page is an amalgam of everything sifted through my eyes, my nose, my fingers, and my brain. You know, cognition is a fascinating thing because I believe there are certain kinds of knowing, certain kinds of understanding, but what I find pretty amazing about the human mind is that cognition stops at some point and another kind of exploration, of knowing starts to take over.
There’s a poem that I have called “Blunts”: did I get high in my teen years? Yes, recreationally with friends. Did that actual scene happen? No. I never had a friend named Malik, never had a friend named Johnny Cash. I played basketball with a guy named Johnny Cash, but only knew him on the basketball court and loved his name. I love the metric and the meter of that name. That hard ‘k’ sound. So the aesthetic demands are like the carrot pushing the cart. Oftentimes, I’m really just paying attention to what kind of sound I need, rhythm or cadence I need. I need to find that combination of words and syntax that will lead me to that. Then, I step back and say, “This is why poetry exists, because I never would have uttered something so weighty.” I’m not a profound person. The creative process–sitting down and writing poems–leads me unto regions of knowing that I didn’t know I possessed.