Featured Writer Andy Jackson: Three Poems

Lindsey

Here we are at the enclosure, watching
.                                   a pair of giraffes in the distance, slowly
nodding as they walk away.  Fences
.                                   like these keep us separate from the animals,

and the animals from us.  My heart
.                                   so far is good.  I’ve not followed my mom into
sudden agony and surgery.  The okapis are threatened

.                                   and are here.  I love their deep brown hides,
their zebra legs, their quietness.  I’m torn
.                                   between reading the signs and just standing
here, watching them breathe.  All our group

.                                   have Marfan, but it doesn’t have us.
Nearby, an ostrich is lowering itself gently
.                                   to the earth, its neck honest and determined

as a spine.  I want a shirt that says no I don’t
.                                   play basketball
.  I play the clarinet and dance.
There’s surgery and medication.  There’s a drift
.                                   of snow leopards, a pride of lions.  We raise

money.  We want to save ourselves.

b. 2000

 

John

What use is music your body can’t hold,
that can’t take you from this world?

I met a man who wouldn’t play the drum
until he’d stroked it, given thanks to the doe –

we have lost this.  All night, the freeway’s racket,
its metallic breath.  Any day now, I could leave.

O God, you do not exist –
but you are hidden in this tumour,

this slow-leaking valve of my heart – your gifts,
they have broken me into understanding.

As a child, I would leap into my own
little rituals of numbers and joy.

The icon offers the empty space at its centre.
I only love this world because I love the other.

We are this knot in a string whose ends extend
forever in both directions.  The compositions?

I’d not change a note.  But I could have said less.

 

1944 – 2013

 

Jess

I would be giving in to a myth of sameness which I think can destroy us” – Audre Lorde

sometimes I wake into a quiet sadness
blood pooling in my mouth
bones on fire – this is the worst
and best thing that has ever happened to me

one morning I couldn’t walk
the white coats
gave me a chair –
I became an adult
while they tried to work it out
the closest was marfanoid habitus
til a sudden knife in the chest
gave me enough points for the full diagnosis
hearing it, I felt sick

I have mitral valve prolapse, regurgitation
multiple pulmonary nodules
I get short of breath and produce
excessive mucous (clearly I’m very attractive)
my joints are hypermobile
and dislocate (they go out more than I do)
I’m the walking rubber-band

comments and names at school –
don’t cross your legs, you look disgusting
spider-woman, anorexic slut

other things I can’t write

doctors accused my parents of abuse
threatened me with feeding tubes –
ironic, it was only all this pointing at my bones
that gave me an eating disorder

since I joined Chronic Illness Peer Support
they can’t shut me up
we go on camps, socials, talk about whatever we need to
I meet the most incredible people
and call them my friends
(my dog helps me enormously with my grief)

I’m so motivated people find me exhausting
started studying nursing
but they told me I was too unwell
cried so hard I broke a rib – now it’s psych

I haemorrhaged every day for eighteen months
clots bigger than my hand
doubled over in pain until I passed out
I think about my future a lot
imagine a husband, two golden retrievers
a blue house by the beach, veggie patch
all the people I will help
life is extraordinary and so are you

now look at this photo and tell me
you still want sameness

b. 1992

 

-Andy Jackson

 

‘Lindsey’, ‘John’ and ‘Jess’ were published in Music our bodies can’t hold (Hunter Publishers 2017). They have republished here with the author’s permission.

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Andy Jackson

Andy Jackson lives in Castlemaine, and has featured at literary events and arts festivals in Australia, India, USA and Ireland. He was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry for Among the regulars (Papertiger 2010), and won the 2013 Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize for The thin bridge. Andy’s most recent collections are Immune Systems (Transit Lounge 2015), and the chapbook That knocking (Little Windows 2016). His new book, Music our bodies can’t hold (Hunter Publishers), consists of portrait poems of other people with Marfan Syndrome.

Music our bodies can’t hold is available from Hunter Publishers

Andy Jackson: Biographical Note

Heather Taylor Johnson launches Andy Jackson’s Music our bodies can’t hold

 

 

 

“Beauty, imagination, understanding, empathy, recognition”: Heather Taylor Johnson launches Andy Jackson’s ‘Music our bodies can’t hold’

“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.

Music_our_bodies_can't_hold_Cover-300x462Reading 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.

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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.

Music our bodies can’t hold is available from Hunter Publishers

Andy Jackson: Biographical Note

Andy Jackson: Three poems from Music our bodies can’t hold