Poet readies the release of new book, 'Pardon My Heart'

Poet Marcus Jackson grew up in the theater.

Not so much on stage as in the audience — for readings, rehearsals, tech and performances. Jackson's parents were both active in the Toledo, Ohio, theater community, but despite his early immersion, young Marcus gravitated more toward the written word.

“I'm more of a shy, introverted person. I love reading out loud, just not always to an audience,” Jackson said, laughing, knowing that being a writer still means often doing public readings of his own work. (Jackson will read a selection of his poems, including some from last year's Pardon My Heart, at Gramercy Books in Bexley on Thursday, Jan. 31.) “I prefer to let my poems be the performers.”

Jackson invested heavily in poetry while a student at the University of Toledo — it was his original hope to go into sports writing, commentary specifically — gravitating toward its freedom of language and form.

“I liked its eccentricity on the page. I'm obsessed with the formal, the visual,” Jackson said in an interview at an Olde Towne East coffee shop.

Broadly, Jackson's poems traffic in imagery, setting and narrative. It serves the writer both in style and technique. Each work places the reader alongside the narrator, providing exquisite detail in both sense and motivation. And then…

“You figure out what narrative you need to ground your read and then you get lyric however you want. I had a grad school professor describe it as, ‘You can use setting and narrative as a rug your company is standing on and then you can pull the rug out from under them,'” Jackson said. “So whatever larger artistic impulses you have you can set up a comfortable scenario, or at least a conceptually accessible scenario, and then you can make it strange or metaphysical.”

For Pardon My Heart, Jackson began by forcing himself to write in sonnets and blank verse — “traditional European forms” — breaking those structures on revision. The collection speaks from the voices of descendants of the Great Migration. It's a duality that began with notions of monarchy and class, given those forms' history, and ended with political fallout from the 2016 Presidential election. Jackson said he's not a social poet, but that this larger conversation found its way organically into his verse.

Jackson acknowledged he is perhaps more acutely aware of those things as he ponders the world his 5-year-old daughter will inhabit.

“I've definitely become a little more fearful of the world since I became a parent,” he said. “My newer work is a little bit more existential.”

That his work might carry a touch of social weight doesn't mean the poet himself has become more social.

“Awkward silence has never bothered me,” Jackson said.