Jackson was one of our greatest poets -- it's hard to believe he's gone.
I knew him only at a distance, though there were a few important connections we made. Jackson published the first poems he ever wrote in high school, in a literary magazine edited by my grandfather, R. Stanley Peterson, at New Trier. We struck up a correspondence regarding this strange coincidence. I also saw Jackson read a number of times in the past three years: once in Tucson for POG, once in New York for a reading celebrating Chax Press, and once in Boston a little over a year ago for John Dooley's Demolicious Series.
In Tucson I spent a number of days with him and Jesse Seldess, and Jackson gave a talk on "My Writing Ways" in which he discussed many of the revolutionary procedural techniques that he developed over the years. However, he also admitted rather mischievously that after awhile it had become clear that his procedures did not completely remove the ego from the writing process, but that he decided to continue doing them because he "enjoyed the resulting effects." In this sense, I was particularly intrigued by his Forties series, which he wrote in an improvisatory fashion but which read as if they had been generated using procedures. It was as if, after years of doing those procedures, he had taught himself how to write differently, in this strange and open way.
Yet in looking at the early high school narrative poems of Jackson's, I showed them to Charles Alexander in his studio and Charles observed that in some oblique way the works "sounded like Jackson" even at that early stage. In any case, he made a lot of important discoveries and wrote a lot of important works, among them French Sonnets, one of my favorites. This was the first book published in 1984 by an exciting venture into publishing called at the time Black Mesa, a venture which we now know by the name of Chax Press.
Jackson's work has influenced the lives and poetry of so many, as evinced by the passionate and thoughtful responses assembled in this special issue of EOAGH -- we are honored to share them with you and continue this conversation about Jackson's work. We will dearly miss this wonderfully determined, serious, and sweet man with an eye for detail and a droll, slightly submerged sense of humor: in Tucson I loaned him a kettle because the guest cottage where he was staying had none, and he wrote me a note: "Thanks for the kettle, and the koincidence."
Photo by Charles Alexander