The Absurd Man: Poems
In this knock-out collection, Major Jackson savors the complexity between perception and reality, the body and desire, accountability and judgment.
Inspired by Albert Camus’s seminal Myth of Sisyphus, Major Jackson’s fifth volume subtly configures the poet as “absurd hero” and plunges headfirst into a search for stable ground in an unstable world. We follow Jackson’s restless, vulnerable speaker as he ponders creation in the face of meaninglessness, chronicles an increasingly technological world and the difficulty of social and political unity, probes a failed marriage, and grieves his lost mother with a stunning, lucid lyricism.
The arc of a man emerges; he bravely confronts his past, including his betrayals and his mistakes, and questions who he is as a father, as a husband, as a son, and as a poet. With intense musicality and verve, The Absurd Man also faces outward, finding refuge in intellectual and sensuous passions. At once melancholic and jubilant, Jackson considers the journey of humanity, with all its foibles, as a sacred pattern of discovery reconciled by art and the imagination.
In the shimmering fifth collection from Whiting Award winner Jackson (Roll Deep), Albert Camus's concept of the "absurd creator," who creates "for nothing," inspires a vivid travelogue from Xichang to North Philadelphia to Paris as Jackson's speaker searches for meaning. Depicting urban scenes, Jackson recalls a "white-gloved/ doorman who opening a glass door gets a whiff/ of a dowager's thick perfume and recalls baling timothy/ hay as a boy in Albania." Elsewhere, Jackson's eye is laser-sharp and wry, observing as "a drug-riddled couple/ shares the smoldering remains of an American Spirit... this city's updated version of American Gothic." Throughout the book, Jackson's weaving of mythology and literary references serve as context for confrontations with personal ghosts, be they "his dead mother reappear in a storefront glass" or the grandfather who would "look askance at my treasured collection of stemless wineglasses// and fashionable ascots." Jackson's speakers affectingly embrace self-interrogations that reckon with "our affair/ far away from my wife and their husbands" or "my children whom I scarred." In this accomplished work, readers will find that absurdity is only a stop along the road to larger meaning.