‘You will lose yourself’: the rituals of grief in the poetry of Ashaki M. Jackson

From: Prairie Schooner


The Prairie Schooner Book Prize is now open! In honor of the 2016 Book Prize season, Book Prize Coordinator Katie Schmid Henson will interview authors about the process of constructing a manuscript and bringing it to publication. This week, Katie interviews brilliant poet and Prairie Schooner contributor Ashaki M. Jackson about grief rituals, submission rituals, and her two forthcoming chapbooks.

I Write Sad Things

Colleagues tell me that I am too well adjusted to be fixated on death and mortuary rites. They also say that they feel the work, suggesting that I have a good handle on opening grief for participation. Grappling with endocannibalism, Shiva, and the reasoning of it all requires stability on my part to write into and not be consumed by the sadness. If I had to articulate my work’s goals, they would be to expand readers’ acceptance of grief in all varieties as a process by which we 1) ease the pain of remembering, 2) allow our bodies absolute surrender to our feelings, and maybe 3) seek and receive security in others, familiar or not. Not all poetry will meet these goals by virtue of authors’ manias – we each like what we like. But, I want to relay grief so that the reader receives and mourns with that speaker (who is usually me). This is communing. When I read the work aloud to a captive audience, they hear this grief and mourn. This is also communing. And I don’t find this communication to be artificial, but very basic, like when you see a person scrape his/her/their knee and you instinctively say “ouch.” Do I think that poetry is unique in carrying feeling from one person to another or bringing people together in their vulnerabilities? To an extent—in a way that is concise and visual and quickly transported. Prose does this. Oral storytelling does this. A remarkable image does this, too. I use what I have, and that is poetry.

Grief as a Choreographer

Grief marionettes the body, which is compelling to me. You will lose yourself. It might not be immediate, and it might not look traditional. I see no difference in the Sufi spinning, the mother folding into herself or, in my case, crying myself weak at the scent of coffee, which reminds me of my late grandmother. (Coffee shops are difficult spaces for me.) I find the body to be the most honest character in grief as there is no suitable language for this process. Mark Doty remarks on this in his introduction of Alex Lemon’s Mosquito (Tin House New Voice) – a treasured book. Doty posits that language exists for emotions that are social and that pain is experienced singularly, so there are few to no words. He says, “Our poverty of terms for pain may indicate that we’ve given up on creating a lexicon, understanding that the solitary, suffering subject remains solitary. When we are wordless, we tend to be world-less as well.” Doty and I part ways a bit as I think that grief can be quietly communal; we may choose to be near others in our sadness or we might make space for someone to join us in our rituals because loneliness can be hard. In this we are building that world. Too, I feel that body has a demonstrative vernacular—all the triggers and switches you haven’t yet logged in yourself are activated in loss. I’m learning this more and more about myself. The eye twitches. The mind brings you gifts. The stomach seizes. The hands hold ghosts. The body calls out and, sometimes, receives a response from others. Even the ways that we simply do not seem ourselves because the body is mourning draws others’ attentions, company or rescue. But the response is not my focus at this moment; neither is the communality of it. I want to start here: What does the body experience during loss? This is a language that I try to capture. Read Rest of Article Here


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