The Absurd Man

Norton. Feb. 2020. 80p. ISBN 9781324004554. $26.95. POETRY
Whiting Award winner Jackson’s fifth poetry collection (after Roll Deep) concerns familial love, lust, civil rights, urban renewal, and a painful divorce, disparate topics he aims to unify with frequent references to Albert Camus’s philosophy of the absurd. As Camus explains in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” humankind resembles the king of Greek legend who continually pushed a rock uphill only to see it come crashing down. Most of Jackson’s poems take the same path as they attempt to make meaning out of the contradictions of daily life, though a few offer an intuitive kind of sense. Here there’s a suggestion that God is somehow connected to the absurd man’s having never quite achieved his possibilities, though one senses that it’s the narrator’s very nature getting in the way. Mostly, though, it’s overreaching with mixed metaphors and exhausting readers that keeps the poet from achieving his goals. Too bad, because there are good poems here, such as “Dear Zaki,” written for Notozake Shange, which has a recognizable pattern as it echoes Alan Ginsberg’s tribute to Walt Whitman, “A Supermarket in California.”
VERDICT Jackson has said that he wants his poems to change language into feeling. Alas, in this collection, they seldom do.
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