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Poet Major Jackson Takes the Stage

Skye spoke with award-winning poet Major Jackson at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. 

“I’ve read a lot of poetry, and it all kind of got into me,” says award-winning poet Major Jackson.

Jackson gave a reading on February 18 at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. The event was part of Emory’s Black History Month celebration.

Jackson is the author of six poetry collections, including Razzle Dazzle: New and Selected Poems (W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., 2023) and Hoops: (Norton, 2006). He is also the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. His poems explore the bonds formed in communities, Black history, and everyday life. 

In early 2023, Jackson began hosting a podcast called “The Slowdown,” which offers a new way to enjoy poetry. United States Poet Laureate Ada Limón had stepped down as host to take on her new role as poet laureate. 


“TI’m very curious about people,” Jackson told Skye. “I’m very curious about language.” 


Before the reading, I got a chance to talk with Jackson. When asked what inspired his work, he said. “I’m very curious about people. I’m very curious about language.”

Jackson often delves into past experiences in his poetry. “I try to understand today what I didn’t know yesterday,” he said.

When asked his advice for kids who would like to write their own poems, Jackson said, “Read, read, and read. Read widely from one genre to another.”

The poet emphasized the importance of word choice in the artistic process. “We really want readers to have a full width of what’s possible with language,” he said. “To cultivate a relationship with language is not only to use language for its meaning, but also how it sounds. Language is the material of the art.”

Like many poets, Jackson was self-conscious about his work when he started out. He remembers handing in a book of poems to a childhood teacher by mistake. The teacher read one of the poems aloud to the class. “I actually liked his reading of something that I wrote,” Jackson said. “It was almost as if he announced me as coming out as a poet.”


Skye with other young attendees of Jackson’s poetry reading at Emory


Photos courtesy of the author