Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reuben Jackson - News from Vermont

As some of you know, Richard Blanco will return to the Washington area this spring, and we’ll host his poetry reading with Dan Vera here at The Writer’s Center on Saturday, May 18. Richard’s publisher had contacted us  to say that he was hoping to read from his new collection of poems at the Center, where he had been a very popular workshop leader before moving several years ago. Richard burst onto the national spotlight earlier this year when he was selected to read a poem at President Obama’s inauguration.

His return visit got me thinking about former workshop leaders who have left the area but remain active in their literary community.  Today we’re glad to post news from Reuben Jackson, a native Washingtonian who now teaches high school in Burlington, Vermont. Reuben’s long-running poetry workshop, A World Bold as Love, was titled for a Jimi Hendrix song. He worked for several years as an archivist in the Smithsonian Institute’s Duke Ellington collection, and he now hosts a music program on Vermont Public Radio.

- Sunil Freeman

As a long-time workshop leader in DC, can you talk a bit about your experience now teaching high school students in Burlington, Vermont?

(RJ): If I had to sum up my experiences as a high school English teacher in Burlington, Vermont, I would borrow two words from an essay by Amiri Baraka: The Changing Same. (Ok, that's three words.) What I mean is that I constantly run into (and/or teach) younger versions of the friends I had in high school--not to mention students interested in worlds and ideas beyond the "norm." In other words, students I consider younger relatives--literary and musical soulmates.

Of course, these students are, as said students like to say, way more tech savvy than I would have been at their age--or am now, for that matter.

Teaching is draining as all get out, but I like it a great deal. It is a joy and a challenge getting students to introduce themselves to their way of thinking--especially in this test-heavy academic environment. Still, I am glad I changed lanes.

You’re known both for your poetry and your love of music, and you’ve often brought the two together in your poetry workshops. Can you talk a bit about how you see these forms feeding each other, and also about your music program on Vermont Public Radio.

(RJ): As far as poetry /music connections are concerned, well, I consider both genres gateways to possibility. Both provide numerous routes to their respective destinations. (I am thinking of form here.) As a teacher, I constantly find the use of form in poetry introduces writers to aspects of their craft they may be less familiar with. Believe it or not, high school students are often more willing to write, say, a sonnet in praise of the young man/young woman whose presence sets their hearts aflutter than older, more guarded bards.

Could you talk a bit about some of the poets and composers who have influenced you.

(RJ): Favorite poets/composers.... Wayne Shorter, Anne Sexton, William Carlos Williams, William Parker, Amiri Baraka, Paul Blackburn, Ornette Coleman, Marcus Miller, Julia Fields, Major Jackson. (I could go on for days.)

Could you describe the cultural and literary community in Burlington, and any differences or similarities to what you’ve seen in the Washington area.

(RJ): The extent of my interaction with Burlington's literary community mainly consists of the workshops I've done with the Young Writers Project. I consider myself someone who has been blessed with a number of writing opportunities, but who doesn't really write poetry these days . My weekly jazz show on Vermont Public Radio is a kind of creative endeavor--as is the structuring of substantive ( and hopefully interesting) units of study for school.

By the way, Burlington is more like DC than you might think. I didn't expect a Norman Rockwell painting come to life--but it is interesting how we humans end up recreating that which we thought we had enough of..(Tailgating--strip malls, etc.)

Many of your friends in the Washington area keep in touch by way of your many poetry and music postings on Facebook. Would you like to talk about the role social media might play in the creative process and/or in strengthening a sense of community across great distances?

(RJ): Social media--Frankly, Facebook is my daily drum. It's another outlet for all the flotsam and jetsam that flows through my weird brain--and a way of keeping in contact with the various stations of one's life. Still. I try not to spend too much time on it. It is dangerous that way.

Are there plans for a return to the Washington area?

(RJ): Will I ever return to DC? I am not trying to be flippant (or pseudo sagacious ) here, but if this life has taught me anything, it's what the great pianist/composer Thomas "Fats" Waller once said--"One Never Knows, Do One?" I should also add that my last trip to DC reminded me that my hometown had indeed gotten too fast for me. I was glad to see so many old friends, but goodness, I missed the mountains--and people saying hello on the street.

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