R E U B E N J A C K S O N
i n t e r v i e w
COMP: These are gorgeous, profound poems. Thank you so much for allowing us to publish them.
We deeply admire the ways in which your work both pays homage to and contends with canonical American poems: “The stoop I nursed was my / Mending Wall,” for example. You do this powerfully in your latest book, Scattered Clouds, with poems like “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Pitbull,” the poem punningly pitting itself against Stevens.
With its setting and haiku qualities, “Subway Platform Poem No. 5” evoked for us Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” Do you think about this poem as participating in such a conversation?
Reuben Jackson: The Pound poem was and is a definite inspiration/ vehicle for thematic, chronological and cultural exploration. I often (maybe too often) quote his dictum "Make It New,” but like, say, a jazz musician exploring a well-known 32-bar American Popular Song vehicle, much of my work is, like life itself, a variation (or variations) on a theme. I'm probably more aware of, and in love with, the tradition than a lot of people think.
C: In your oeuvre, “Promises, Promises” is one of many poems whose speaker is in fact Reuben Jackson. In general, is the Reuben in these poems a character—a romantic version of yourself, say?—or does the presence of this speaker(s) oppose the invention and/or alteration of a poetic self?
RJ: I'm often asked how much of the speaker in the poems is yours truly. I sometimes worry that readers focus more on that aspect of the work than what it is I am trying to say, but so be it. Maybe I'm in there somewhere, but I see poems as composites: A street I'm familiar with, someone else's love for ginger ale, etc. The images are building blocks to what I hope are poems of some value.