What is most compelling about Linda Susan Jackson’s debut collection of poems, What Yellow Sounds Like, is the extraordinary self-possession of its young female narrator as she seeks to answer-who am I and to whom do I belong? These poems are about the process of shaping the identity of one girl who comes from “a line of technicolor women” who have “honey/suckle buried freely in the folds of their flesh,” a girl who comes from “men who bit their tongues,/ate dirt, dust and their pride. Worked anywhere,” and could “soar off the ground.”
The terrain of Jackson’s poems is particular, perilous, loving, humorous, passionate, uncompromising, contradictoryin other words, vastly human. The language is varied and inflected with the blues, and like the blues, pulls readers in through images and details that are both concrete and symbolic. Poem after poem charts the stages of this young girl’s development through her relationships with her family, her history, and the America into which she is born that is defined by race, skin color, gender, and class. The narrator develops a profound and essential connection to the legendary singer, Etta James, the “canary colored blues woman” and she recognizes the power in the sound of words as she recollects how Etta James “churned up her roar/to keep other women from dying.” Near the end of the book, her great-grandmother tells her “Everything don’t need to be told. Some things must.” In this moment, the narrator is empowered to decide what to tell and to tell it in her own voice. These poems celebrate the sheer will and determination of the self to seek out and find who or what it needs to grow and prosper.
Because she was homesick for the smell of Virginia tobacco and pit-roasted hog;
because she longed to hear her big brother scratch out blues on his box; because she craved the feel of corn silk and had six stair-step children before she was twenty-five,
she went to the funerals of strangers.
-from Family Outing
|Publisher:||Northwestern University Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.30(d)|
About the Author
Linda Susan Jackson is the author of two chapbooks, Vitelline Blues (2002) and A History of Beauty (2001), both published by Black-eyed Susan Publishing. She was also a finalist in the 2006 National Poetry Series Open Competition. Her poetry has appeared in anthologies and journals, including Gathering Ground, Heliotrope, Los Angeles Review, Rivendell, Warpland, Brilliant Corners, PMS:poemmemoirstory, Brooklyn Review 20 & 21, Cave Canem VII & VIII, African Voices, and was featured on From the Fishouse audio archive. She is an assistant professor and deputy chair of the English department at Medgar Evers College/CUNY in Brooklyn, New York.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Professor jackson is a wonderful poet and an amazing professor. I have the honor of having her for as an english professor. She has changed my life'and my vocabulary' more tahn she'll ever know. If you do not have the plesure of sitting in on one of her classes, i suggest you read 'what yellow sounds like' and take a piece of her home,on the train or the beauty parlor while getting your rollers dry. Everyone needs alittle yellow in their life.
Linda Susan Jackson's What Yellow Sounds Like is an impressive display of a poet's ability to transport the reader into his or her own life. She covers ideas ranging from her love of Etta James, her mother's family life, to her own family life. However, each of these blend in order to form a consistent and whole view of how her life has been shaped by her experiences and the experiences of those close to her. Her grandmother's steadfast views of what a lady should do and be ('The Rundown') influenced her mother's unhappy relationship with her father ('Tuesday'), which subsequently created a rocky relationship that ended with her father leaving. Jackson being made to bear the brunt of her mother's frustration can be seen clearly in poems such as 'Men' and 'Answers May Vary' where she says: the day I left my mother because she could no longer hold him is the day she left me because although a daughter I am him You see? Though there are many poems in which her childhood seemed harsh, Jackson also makes a point of providing a glimpse into her happier memories. All of these memories surprisingly seemed to include music, mostly the songs of Etta James. Her admiration for this woman is prominent throughout the entire second section of the book, which begins with the title poem 'What Yellow Sounds Like'. My favorite of this section, which reads almost like an ode to Etta, is 'Chile,' which is written as a letter from Ms. James. Jackson captures feelings she may have had while describing events in her life and ending with what seems to be Jackson's admiring view of this blues and jazz great. Throughout the rest of the book Jackson references Etta many times in relation to how her music has impacted her. What I enjoyed most about this book is how Jackson shows how the women in her family are a part of her and have helped to create the woman that she is, for better or worst. In, 'The Women in Me', she describes these women and includes not only the good, but the bad as well. However, the poem glorifies it all, as if to say `no matter what qualities I've inherited, I'm grateful because they've made me who I am'. This sentiment is telling of most of Jackson's What Yellow Sounds Like. She weaves intricate memories along with subtle reflection which makes this book not only enjoyable but very relatable.
In her book What Yellow Sounds Like, Linda Susan Jackson brings the reader into a world of blues and family. Her words dance across the page and at times leave the reader reeling from the stories she spins. Her poems are at once witty and touching, deeply passionate and affirming. From her descriptions of times spent with her family to the poems that pay homage to Etta James, Jackson¿s work reveals a deep understanding of the spectrum of human emotion. The title poem is one of many that serves to bring to life the colors, tastes, sounds, and smells Jackson finds most important to share. The poetry within this collection resonates with the bass of the blues.
To give this book a higher rating would suggest that I understood more than I did. In What Yellow Sounds Like, Linda Susan Jackson weaves a collection that blurs the line of autobiographical and biographical poetry, as she mixes her experience with Etta James¿ story. Both artists struggle to make their place as ¿yellow¿ women in a black culture. This is where my understanding fails as a consciously white woman, I do not catch all the nuances of emotion and images Jackson fuses into her poems. Still, Jackson¿s work is powerful, expressing (as she says in Life is Like a Song), ¿the rage of a woman set on surviving.¿ Throughout the book, learning to survive means rage sometimes comes out sounding more like loss, humility, and disguise. Although What Yellow Sounds Like comes out of a particular tradition and history, the poems are meaningful to other audiences. Jackson¿s poems are rooted in the black culture, but other readers can find points of connection. Answers May Vary describes the experience of loss and broken families that crosses color lines Conundrum, Tuesday, and Beauty¿s Season also speak more broadly to the rage women must express in order to survive. This is an angry book, but it is also a book of families and tradition and the joy and relief of survival.
As I first started reading, What Yellow Sounds Like, I tried to get a sense of the poets personality. From the first poem in the book I got an idea that the poet was expressing her life through poetry, starting with birth. I loved the poets use of imagery, thus hinting the title I chose for my review. In many of the poems I felt like I was there or I had a sense of the setting and the environment. Her vivid memories from her childhood allowed me to, in my mind use my senses (taste, touch, hear, smell, and of cousre see)to invite myself into her poems. Like in the poem hair, I could almost smell the burning from the hot comb. Throughout the book I noticed that she made alot of references to Etta James and a few other artist but mostly Etta James. Like the title peom What Yellow Sounds Like which was one of my favorites. I like how it tells a story which evolves over time. Another one of my favorites was a poem called At Last, whcih is also the title of one of Etta James songs. Another one of my favorites is Narrow Crossing. Many events happen in this one day as she travels from Staten Island to Canarsie, Brooklyn. Its as if she starts a new life in one day and leaves behind the old, all the while no one warned her. I also like Men, Light Dinner, Dinner Lesson, and Family Outing, which I thought was a very unusual poem. All in all the book has a unique character that is worth reading. She uses the blues to tell many of her stories. Its a history lesson as well.