Apr 142013

Richard Jackson

Poems and images intertwine in Richard Jackson’s “Soundings,” a series of nature photographs juxtaposed with the superb poems they inspired, the photographs themselves iconic, metaphorical and mysterious. The human and the natural intersect at the level of form when the poet spies a dilapidated chair in the forest, a cluster of roots resembling tank traps. A bee becomes a soul and a gap between facing cliffs looks like, well, a gap and the gap is violent, a pile of shell casings. Images and poems project a moral grid onto the cluttered world, they compose a judgement and a puzzle.

This is what Jonah had to learn, that it is
all loneliness, all forgiveness, all gathering
from the puzzling depths he carried within him.

Richard Jackson is a peripatetic poet and translator, an admired colleague at Vermont College of Fine Arts where we both teach, a good man to travel with and a profoundly engaged human being. He has published poems, translations and essays on NC before and it’s a pleasure to have him back.


Soundings photo by Richard Jackson



What we know deeply we know for such
short time before it appears again, distant and foreign.
Where do our words go once they are spoken?
The whale sheaths itself and leaves behind a footprint
of oil.  The sea gathers the setting light of the sky.
At some point, the sea becomes the sky.
This is what Jonah had to learn, that it is
all loneliness, all forgiveness, all gathering
from the puzzling depths he carried within him.
Above, a gull dives into a cloud. An invisible
plane leaves a vapor trail the wind bends. There is
a kind of truth we only see when we close our eyes.


Butterflies photo by Richard Jackson



All the energy collected by Radio Telescopes since
they started is only equal to the energy of a butterfly
landing on a flower. Which is to say how little we know
about what is in our own solar system, or ourselves.
In fact, Pluto’s orbit is so irregular we don’t know where
it will appear next. Which is how, I suppose, you have
landed here in this sentence and, like gravity, have begun
to shift the focus. Maybe that’s why I think of Newton,
who, poisoned by Mercury from his alchemy experiments,
couldn’t remember where he put his proofs for elliptical
orbits. There’s no reality without its proof, Halley had argued
years before the comet was named for him. The energy
it takes to remember is the energy it takes to love,
the saying goes, taking so little, as those butterflies know,
to flutter and fly off because there is no formula, and
because love is stronger than the proofs we remember for it.


Chair by Richard Jackson



The story begins with the muffled hum of bees you can’t see
as they circle a nest in the cushions. It begins with their sound
that folds the air into bolts of cloth. It begins with the whine
of the truck half a mile away on the nearest road. It begins
when we live in the absent sounds of someone else’s dreams.
They have gone where they had to go. The sunlight strikes
where it wants to go. There was never any money to stuff into
the cushions. The felled trees have their own stories but are
of no interest here. The path to the next clearing has not been
told yet. Pascal was right, there is no center or circumference.
The bees are souls. The bees wander off. The story begins there.


Tank Traps Richard Jackson


Ljubljana, Slovenia, 1992

Someone is watching from the window across the square.
There are Nightbirds complaining as they maneuver
And dive between the lights. We could drink the darkness.
Those aren’t child’s jacks or crosses as they seemed from afar.
Below us, a Roman city smirks about what we’ll never know.
South of here the souls of the dead disguise themselves as
Clouds to escape the militia. Each day is another trap.
Our words are blemishes on the truth. Every heart is crossed out.
The darkness provokes a few whispers.  Everywhere we look
Something crosses our path. We can’t see the lovers yet,
About to cross from the right. We can’t see the child
Crossing out what he’s just written. There are no halos
On the streetlights. These designs imprison us. The sky
leans down. If we aren’t careful we’ll cross out the world.

Rock Bird  Richard Jackson



No wonder the first people here believed we came from stone.
What these birds were waiting for was the day we would return.
The lizards wrap themselves in light. The wind whispers into
the ear of the sky. The shadows have a purpose we’ll never
decipher. Nevertheless, these birds invite us to speak to them.
At night these rocks will be iced with light. The question
they would answer is why they left the air. They are no longer
surprised by what we have tried to carve into history.
Sometimes our words hold an idea for a few moments before
the sand claims it. The mind shivers at this thought. Reality
seems like a provocation. Nevertheless, these birds, they are
silent to say whatever has been wearing us down, carving us
into shapes we could never imagine, never refuse to believe.


Fog Richard Jackson



Crows and Elephants watch over their dead and mourn.
How strange to come back now to that sentence, weeks
later. It’s almost time to leave. Every sound is louder
in the fog. My watch strains to go backwards. Shadows whisper
where no shadows could be. An echo of the moon strays
out of the last ruins of darkness. Yes, the two men in the boat
about to become fog are real. So, too, the dreams that are
lost among the fallen trees that scratch the shoreline.
Last night, the stars on the water were trap doors. The crows
with their charred wings are complaining to a hawk.  It’s time
to pack up  the sunsets the dawns and move on. There’s our dog
sniffing below this window who knows everything else we can’t see.


.Not Said Richard Jackson



Gravity happens to the lens. Words squint but
it doesn’t help. I want the mailman to deliver
another story. Instead there are only the homeless
men washing the windshield for a quarter. Why
does love seem stuffed in the trunk? This is not
a calculus problem.  The bridge from here
to there hasn’t been delivered. Empty bullet
casings litter the scene. No one is ever a witness.
The heart sags. My footprints forget me.
I don’t think anything will ever be the same.
This is the edge of the cliff and you can’t move,
can’t jump. Everything is vertical. With binoculars
you can see where you’ll be in an hour. Raindrops
collect on the lens. A fine mist. It hides us.
It drifts into clocks. Gravity presses your hands.
Some hurts never get said. Some get smuggled.

—Richard Jackson


Richard Jackson is the author of ten books of poems, most recently Resonance (Ashland Poetry Press, 2010) which won the 2012 Eric Hoffer Award), Half Lives: Petrarchan Poems (Autumn House, 2004) Unauthorized Autobiography: New and Selected Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2003), Heartwall (UMass, 2000 Juniper Prize), Svetovi Narazen (Slovenia, 2001), a limited edition small press book, Falling Stars: A Collection of Monologues (Flagpond Press, 2002), Richard Jackson: Greatest Hits (2004), and several chapbooks of translations. He has edited two anthologies of Slovene poetry: The Fire Under the Moon and Double Vision: Four Slovenian Poets (Aleph, ’93) and edits an eastern European Chap book series, Poetry Miscellany and mala revija. He is also the author of a book of criticism, Dismantling Time in Contemporary American Poetry (Agee Prize), and Acts of Mind: Interviews With Contemporary American Poets (Choice Award). His several dozen essays and reviews have appeared in Georgia Review, Verse, Contemporary Literature, Boundary 2, Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Numéro Cinq and numerous other journals, as well as anthologies such as The Planet on the Table: Writers Reading (2003) and John Ashbery (ed. Harold Bloom, 2004). In addition, he has written introductions to books of poems by four different Slovene Poets for various presses, and a special Slovene issue of Hunger Mountain (2003). He edited a special 50-page section of Poetry International (2004) on William Matthews with an introductory essay. In 2000 he was awarded the Order of Freedom Medal for literary and humanitarian work in the Balkans by the President of Slovenia. He has received Guggenheim, NEA, NEH, Witter-Bynner and Fulbright Fellowships, and five Pushcart Prizes.His new poetry collection, Out of Place, will be published by Ashland Poetry Press in 2014.

  3 Responses to “Soundings: Poems & Photographs — Richard Jackson”

  1. I very much liked both your poems and your photographs. I’m not sure which I liked most,
    but I’ll always be happy to land in your sentences.–Robert Currie

    Ed. Note: This comment came in via email. Some difficulty with the comment box apparently.

  2. Lovely true mysterious poems and photos
    David Helwig

  3. They’re all beautiful, but the ending of The Chair in the Forest is breathtaking.

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