How Swift the Sand and Stars

Two Poems
by James Croal Jackson

THE WHOLE WORLD OR NOTHING

You suggested whiskey sours
so we left the reading
to walk the golden streets in rain
during the first warm day

which felt like hope–
a riptide cascading
through the chaos of cars
and people on city streets.

Like you, gravel is full of scars
and we trample it under our soles
without thinking.
What do we pray to but the future,

its corpuscular horseshoe
on her way? We are swift
without wind, carving footsteps
in Bukowski’s tattered ambitions.

And when we finally reach the bar’s
back patio with sour piling into our mouths
you strip to your white dress
and show me your tattoos.

We wanted the whole world or nothing.
The sun, the moon, not one or the other.
The stars’ breaths on the nape
of your neck. Every word tingles

the first time celestial bodies meet.
I am cratered with my drink,
this treat and chilled escape.
The staircase leads downward.

GLASS CHESS

I showed you how pawns function
on a glass chessboard

they sacrifice themselves to protect who they love

and what rooks and knights risk
in the modern age

there is a hierarchy in how to approach things

cigarette smoke permeated the wooden air
a phonograph streamed Brahms
I could never quite understand complexity

we sat on couch crumbs with our jeans touching

your friend gave me a rare Bahamian seashell
mottled with beige and caramel
I could not hear the ocean
no matter how hard it pressed against my ear

but with my head against your chest
I remember the beating tide

back then I was composed of sand

scooped whole by strangers hands
learning the gravity of myself
before dissipating

one day
I will build you a castle

James Croal Jackson is a writer, filmmaker, and occasional rapper. His first ever poetry publication was with Walking is Still Honest back in September 2013 but has since been published in places such as The Bitter Oleander, Columbia College Literary Review, and Lines+Stars. Find more of his work at http://www.jimjakk.com.

Poet Interview #37 – James Croal Jackson

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi! I’m James Croal Jackson. I’m originally from Akron, Ohio. I have degrees in Film Studies and Creative Writing. I spent a few years in Los Angeles trying my hand at the film industry, but felt unfulfilled. I lived in my car for several months and traveled the country before landing in Columbus, Ohio.

At what age did you start writing? Have you always written poetry? Who/what first inspired you to start writing?

I started writing as soon as I learned how to put pen on paper. I read a lot of books as a kid but my favorites were, by far, the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stein. I read every single one. As a result, a lot of my early writings included fake Goosebumps books and their accompanying synopses. I have to also say that role-playing games such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII cultivated my love of story and adventure as a youngster. In fifth grade I wrote a series of stories about supernatural mops and, after that, a paragraph-less 140-page novel about a radioactive can of Spam that takes over the world. As an adult, I sometimes wish my imagination still worked in that way.

I dabbled with poetry right around high school. I took some classes in college, but didn’t take it seriously, electing to focus more on fiction and screenwriting. Ironically, it wasn’t until my time spent chasing the film industry when I started taking poetry seriously. Most of my days were spent experiencing new things and the only way to process everything was through poetry. I haven’t really stopped since.

Who are your favorite poets?

Some poets who come to mind are Mark Doty, Carl Sandburg, sam sax, Monica McClure, Ocean Vuong, Mike White, Maggie Smith, and Patrick Ryan Frank, but I am inspired by so many others, too.

How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just … come?

I don’t have a set time to write, only that I make time for it every day. My writing process typically consists of making long blocks of text before paring it down to what I believe is essential. I never know what I set out to write when I do. I like to think of it as sculpting: I start out with my stone– the text– and proceed to chisel it down and make revisions until it seems ready to enter the outside world. The revision process can take minutes, months, or years.

Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

My perception has changed just from reading a lot more. I don’t really know what makes a good poem– only that a good poem affects me in some way. How the poem gets there is the writer’s job, and there are no rules on how this can be achieved. Just write things only you can write.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how?

I am on most social media sites. My twitter (@jimjakk) used to be used primarily for bad comedy, but now it’s used mainly to promote my writing. I have a writer page on facebook (facebook.com/jamescroaljackson). On Instagram (@jimjakk), I sometimes post pictures of my poems.

Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they?

I never had a writer’s group until I came to Columbus. I am involved with Writer’s Block Poetry Night here in Columbus, founded by Scott Woods, Vernell Bristow, and Louise Robertson. I also participate in workshops run by Geoff Anderson.

What are you reading right now?

I am currently reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.

What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?

Write every day. Submit often, but read at least an issue of the journal you submit to to ensure your work fits. There’s no shame in submitting to new publications. Be patient. The more you write, the easier it is to wait for literary magazines to get back to you. Find people to workshop with. Be true to yourself and your workshop partners. Read an eclectic mix of books. Fall in love with new poems and carry the words around with you.

Joy’s Hunger

Half-Life
by Bekah Steimel

I’ve had my fill of emptiness
and I’m starving for hunger
for an appetite of anything-but-this
this chemical buffet
all-you-can-eat elevation
that leaves me low and unsatisfied
My joy comes in doses
My joy has a half-life
As do I.

—–

Bekah Steimel is a poet aspiring to be a better poet. She lives in St. Louis and can be found online at bekahsteimel.com or followed on Twitter and Instagram @BekahSteimel.

Poet Interview #36 – Bekah Steimel

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? At what age did you start writing? Have you always written poetry? Who/what first inspired you to start writing? Who are your favorite poets?

I’m 36 and last year I eloped in Las Vegas (thank you Supreme Court!!). I’m a poet and lover of all things animal, artistic and pharmaceutical. I’ve attempted poetry most of my life, and started sending out submissions five years ago. My Gramma always encouraged any creative endeavor. In her last letter before her death, she told me to keep writing poems. That’s all it took. My favorite poets are Adrienne Rich and Jim Morrison, for very different reasons.

How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just … come? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

My poems just kind of reveal themselves to me. When they are ready to rise, so am I. I can go for a month or two without writing. Poetic camel, I guess. My idea of poetry is constantly evolving, which definitely keeps me motivated to change with it.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how?

I am on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The first thing I like about connecting with other poets is the ‘rejection camaraderie’ we share. I see that rock star poets I admire and respect get the same form emails and ‘best wishes’ I get, too. Secondly, its a good place to find submission opportunities.

What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?

My advice to any struggling poet is just to remember we are all struggling poets. That’s it.

Of Dandelions and The Deceased

Gravestone in Black
by Adam Levon Brown

I found solace
in a run-down graveyard
centered two miles away
from my house

There were no flowers
and no mourners crying
for their lost

I browsed the stones
like I was in a library
of the deceased

After about thirty minutes
I found one name that
resonated with my heart
“John Brown Jr.”

I sat at his side
as though I was his
nurse and he were still
alive

waiting for the news
on his condition

I placed a lone dandelion
at his feet and said
a silent prayer to
whomever was listening

I left the gravestone
with a knowing in my heart
that someday, I will
take the place of

John Brown Jr.

—–

Adam Levon Brown is a poet, student, and activist residing in Eugene, Oregon. He enjoys the outdoors, playing with cats, and meeting new people. He can be reached via his website at http://www.AdamLevonBrown.org, where he offers free resources to poets.