Ashaki M. Jackson

jacksonFrom: Speaking of Marvels

What’s your chapbook about?

Surveillance speaks to the execution videos that have become a part of our collective (national) memory. Specifically, the poems respond to the virtual record of police killing unarmed Blacks with impunity. My work reverses the lens —it watches the witnesses, the YouTube viewers, and God while critiquing the practice of trialing civilians by gunfire.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

I started the collection with a prose poem – a form with which I am least comfortable. My goal at the time was to briefly capture three simultaneous stories in the news. The inquiry into Freddie Gray’s rough ride in Baltimore was ongoing as the investigation into Sandra Bland’s death began. The discussion about Daniel Pantaleo’s use of a chokehold that resulted in Eric Garner’s death the year prior was slowing but still in the ticker tape. At best, I wanted to create a written montage that asked the reader to look, look and look. Instead, the poem became a warning: the capacity for forgiveness had been exceeded; there would be no more safety for police in these killings from here on. That poem is “Fulcrum: the support about which a lever turns; the part of an animal that serves as a hinge or support.” It was my core around which I wrote the remaining pieces of witness and critique.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it? 

I completed this manuscript while participating in Ross White’s The Grind Daily Writing Series. It was the demand of submitting one new or revised poem every day for one month to a faceless team of comrades that kept me accountable to this collection (and to my cohort). Previously, my regular morning writing practice was hijacked by emails, reports, and other adulthood booby-traps. The Grind told me that people were waiting for the work in whatever state it existed – dirty, with misspellings, enjambment-less, unfocused, mix-vernaculared but full of promise. After the month was over, I had pieces. I sorted the poems into three stacks – viable, no, and have hope.Surveillance is a combination of two of the three stacks.

My indispensible revision practices are to 1) read the work aloud for clarity and natural breaks, then 2) break the lines such that they tell distinct stories within the poem. The first sentence of my poem “The Public Examines Black Resilience and is Dissatisfied,” began as:

If you watch enough footage, you grow comfortable with a narrative: the Black body will die.

There are breaks at the punctuation when read aloud. It was fulfilling to also break lines such that the witness (“you”) had the potential to be an ally (to grow) – as all witnesses do – but became recumbent in the certainty of Black death with the body and the violence so physically distant from the witness.

If you watch enough footage   you grow

comfortable with a narrative:

 

the Black body will die

Reading the work aloud and looking for the minor stories in lines sometimes compete, which requires another level of revision: the compromise.

What are you working on now?

This chapbook is part of a growing manuscript. I am writing a section on people abandoning the movement toward eliminating police brutality because the stakes seem too high or they disagree with organizations’ strategies. (Think: the pushback and alienation that Black Lives Matter activists receive during their traffic-stopping tactic.) I think of this departure in terms of a romantic relationship, where deep investment and care are immediately forgone during a pivotal period in the partnership. This section of the book, tentatively called The Breaks, maintains the witness component of Surveillance and examines the public’s relationship to related movements.

 

The Public Examines Black Resilience and is Dissatisfied (Excerpt)

If you watch enough footage    you grow
comfortable with a narrative:

the Black body will die

You begin to see it coming
certain as morning    You become footage
critic and note where zoom and panning would be helpful
to the story

You ask the screen why the Black
body doesn’t get up
These deaths are viewed repeatedly
You still question was it murder    The footage confuses
the Law with the Soldier in Active Combat or the Hit Man
The officer confuses his role

Read Rest of Interview Here

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