“Andy Jackson is such an important poet writing about a topic so deeply important to me: the othered body. I think this is his best book to date and I was so privileged to have launched it. Read the speech, then read the book!” -Heather Taylor Johnson
Andy Jackson’s Music our bodies can’t hold was launched by Heather Taylor Johnson at the Queensland Poetry Festival on 26 August 2017.
Reading Andy Jackson’s exceptional book Music our bodies can’t hold, I’m left asking myself what the purpose of poetry is. For me, its purpose lies beyond language, though language, of course, is the essential vehicle to get us to where we need to be. And is that a place of beauty, that old cliché? Is it a place of imagining, as the core practice of creativity would assume? Perhaps it’s a place of understanding, empathy and recognition so that we find comfort in a world we enter and leave alone and, in the midst of that, cling to others for connection. Music our bodies can’t hold leads me to all of these places, and for that, I’m both honoured and humbled to be launching this book tonight.
Andy’s work has always been about giving voice to the body that is othered. In the spaces between a stranger’s stare and the poet’s eye catching that stare, there are so many words that go unsaid. There are words that skin and muscle and bone silence. Words that hover like empty speech bubbles when we remember and when we hope and when we hurt and when we love. One of the purposes of poetry is to find those words, to write them and read them, which is Andy’s true calling and his gift to us.
In his previous books he strips his body bare to do this, but in this book – in this remarkable book – he takes a risk and embodies others like him: historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, who quite possibly had Marfan Syndrome; people like Jess, who he met and spoke with, and most definitely does. These poems are forty-seven different people, similar through a hereditary genetic disorder, but unique. Unique.
As a prelude, he writes from the voice of Antoine Marfan, who says ‘The last thing a physician / could want is their name on a condition / they have tried to understand and eradicate.’ As an interlude, he writes from the voice of the disorder, which says, ‘Names are critical, threads from a time before us, spiralling into the future’, and ‘Sometimes, too conscious of how I’ve shaped you, that minor rearrangement of elements that estranges, you look around for kin, as if you might find yourself in other bodies.’ As a postlude, he writes in his own voice, from his own experience, but having read the book to this conclusion, we know it to be a voice infused with every person in the book just as every person in the book carries Andy’s words.
Beauty, imagination, understanding, empathy, recognition – this book is a perfect example of what poetry can do and what poetry is. I’m going to go one step further and say that reading this book has made me a better person, so maybe that’s poetry’s purpose, too. So, with that I thank you, Andy. You’ve touched me deeply, and I’m happy to say, ‘This book is launched.’
-Heather Taylor Johnson
“poetry’s never been about ego or cliques, but about the spaces between us, the distant and beautiful voices coming closer, and QPF [the Queensland Poetry Festival] was exactly that this year… had such an exhausting and enlivening time – and so many stunning poets (so many, I missed out on seeing some) – Mark Doty, Ali Coby Eckermann, Quinn Eades, the Writing Through Fences group, Heather Taylor Johnson, Tony Birch, Omar Musa, Sarah Holland-Batt, Bronwyn Lea, Stuart Barnes, Racheal Mead, Ian McBryde, Anna Jacobson… and a huge thanks to David Stavanger and Annie Te Whiu, whose open-hearted and generous directorship made the festival so diverse, so relevant and so profound… thanks too for putting on Each Map of Scars and letting me launch Music Our Bodies Can’t Hold – they landed softly and well…”
-Andy Jackson reflecting on the launch of his book, Music our bodies can’t hold and the Queensland Poetry Festival 2017.
Heather Taylor Johnson is an American born poet, novelist and editor who lives in Adelaide. She has written two novels, Jean Harley Was Here and Pursuing Love and Death, and published four volumes of poetry. She is also the editor of the anthology, Shaping the Fractured Self: Poetry of Chronic Illness and Pain.