Meet Khary Jackson (and his book of poetry)

One of my intentions for creating this website was to have a space for promoting my friends’ work.  I have a lot of friends with new books, or with books coming out soon, so I’m here to get that ball rolling with one of my oldest and favorite friends, Khary Jackson.

Khary and I both attended the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts (he graduated a year before me), and he was always a little weird and a lot talented. Usually those qualities come hand in hand (for example, Khary Jackson). One of my favorite memories of him is when I came into our drama teacher’s office and he was standing in front of the television, conducting all of the symphonies along with Tom Hulce in the film version of Amadeus.   Khary and I both majored in theater/drama and we competed together on our school’s state champion forensics team.  We competed in a dead people competition.  Not really.  Forensics, in that context, means speech and drama.  Khary was one of the most stand out, uninhibited performers on the team, so it’s no surprise that he continues to write and perform his poetry in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he now lives.  Few things make me happier than talking to him on the phone, not only because he has a marvelous speaking voice, but because when I’m listening closely, I can catch snippets of the Minnesota accent he’s picked up over the last decade.  It’s adorable, though adorable is not a word I’d use to describe his work.  His words are imaginative, memorable, and usually pretty heart-wrenching but also pretty funny at times.  His poems, like his performances, are uninhibited.  There is no fear or hesitancy in Khary’s work, which makes it a blast to read.

This week I finally got around to ordering and reading his first poetry collection, Any Psalm You Want, which came out last spring from Write Bloody Poetry.  The book is as marvelous as its title. It’s also got a great cover:

There’s a lot of themes going on in this book: music, Detroit, the African American experience, grieving and suffering, living life to its full capacity.  Of course, if you know me at all, it was the Detroit aspect of this book that captured my interest the most. In a poem called “Frida in Detroit,” he details the miscarriage she had at a hospital named after Henry Ford:

Frida./This is my city before Motown. It is a body/that walks with no rhythm in its limp./There is no music here but what you scrape from the concrete,/what you break from your back in the liver of a factory.

Many of the music poems are conversations:  George Gershwin tells Janis Joplin what he thinks of her version of “Summertime.”  Leadbelly makes sure Kurt Cobain knows what he’s really singing about. In another poem, Khary ponders June’s reaction to Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt.  You know, things you wish you’d thought about before and are grateful to be able to think about from this point on.

Reading Khary’s poems excites me because he presents poetry as a medium of infinite possibilities*, especially when it comes to subject matter.   Aaliyah Haughton’s brother apparently re-dubbed some of her lines in her last film shortly after she died in a plane crash.  Khary hears about this and says, “Really? I have to write a poem about that.”

You can order his book here.

*This phrase is an inside joke that I’d be happy to explain in person because it’s pretty hilarious.

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