By Bobbi Booker
(Originally published in The Philadelphia Tribune)
The ghetto: strong and determined, but sad in its struggle, has always suffered the agony of those who have viewed it as society’s wasteland. But the urban essence of Philadelphia is beaming in “Leaving Saturn” from The University of Georgia Press, a powerful piece of work by poet and Philadelphia native Major Jackson.
Through both formal and free verse, Jackson renders poetic justice to the mechanism of everyday living. Jackson cut his teeth in the gritty streets of North Philadelphia where he witnessed the underbelly of the urban society.
In “Hoops” and “Euphoria” Jackson is brutally honest in his depiction of his street buddies and family. Jackson reminisces about girlfriends and dance steps in the three-part exchange entitled “Rock The Body Body.” “Mr. Pate’s Barbershop” elicits the memory of Saturday’s spent in a barbershop waiting for a fresh do.
Jackson is now an English professor at Xavier University of Louisiana and was awarded the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for this ambitious and honest collection of verses. He has also earned degrees from Temple University and the University of Oregon.
A member of the Dark Room Collective, his poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Callaloo, and The New Yorker, among other journals. He is the recipient of many awards, including a Pew Fellowship in the Arts and commissions from the Chamber orchestra of Philadelphia.
The title of this collection is in honor of the deceased Sun Ra, an esoteric jazz performer who settled in Philadelphia to share his intergalactic view of the world. Music lovers are transported back in time to the pivotal performances of Sun Ra & Arkestra at Grendel’s Lair or Don Pullen jamming at Zanzibar Blue.
Jackson demonstrates that he has the literary sensibilities to make the images of his life dance in your head. His poems hauntingly reflect urban decay and violence, yet at the same time they rejoice in the sustaining power of music and the potency of community. “Leaving Saturn” is a return to the poetry form made famous by the likes of Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez. As only a poet has the ability to do with just a few words, the resiliency and determination of a community clearly seeps through in this must-read collection.