Wrought By Our Weaknesses: The Poetry of Richard Jackson’s Out Of Place

Review: Out of Place, Richard Jackson

The Ashland Poetry Press, 2014


Metaphor or the use of an image that is seemingly unrelated to describe another is one of the oldest literary devices. The Greek metapherein means a literal carrying over: meta-over + pherein-carry/bear. Richard Jackson’s new book of poems Out of Place is filled with metapherein, a carrying over of emotion, a coupling of ideas and images that describe the relic radiation of our hearts and ask us to examine history’s atrocities. Each poem provides solid scaffolding for the reader to cling to while engaging with its speaker’s wide-angled reasoning. The book’s three sections read seamlessly while offering distinct messages to the close reader. A few quotations introduce each section, and each section’s first poem is a compass for where the section will lead.


Section I: Jackson opens this first section with a Detrick Bonhoeffer quote in epigraph to the book’s first poem About This Poem,


“At the beginning…which is to awaken you to the right kind of Joy in serious

times, we must list all those who have been killed…”


This epigraph in particular offers the shadow of what Jackson intends for us to experience while within the book. While many of the poems throughout the collection offer reference to specific horror the first section is most direct though in Jackson’s apportioned style. Consider Bosnian Elegy,


   There’s always that image I can’t push aside, the family outside

Banja Luka, in the charred cellar, the man’s fist raised above

the other bodies, melded in defiance where they were

burnt alive.


Or, While You Were Away,

   Auto cannibalism occurs when Hutu militia of east Congo

make their captives eat their own flesh. Feel free to add

whatever you want there, but it won’t make it any better.


Without the darkness, there is no light. These horrific images are necessary for us to hear the complications of our hearts and Jackson does not leave the reader discouraged or disgusted as he weaves a strong buffer of hope within each poem.


Section II: This section highlights poems that offer deeper contemplation and continue to weave history into a dreamscape misshaped by sociological opposites.

Again Jackson establishes section II’s direction with its first poem. An epigraph by Arthur Conan Doyle for What Comes Next reads,

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”


In Misunderstood, the speaker admits from the first line that the poem is about Nothing. Jackson’s capitalization of Nothing is a significant personification and by page 60, the reader should suspect, if at least subconsciously that the poem is, in fact, about the opposite. Jackson continues to float images of empty roads and shadows before asking, “Where are we going with this?” The reader is given a saccade length’s smile before realizing the question is rhetorical and before the speaker dives back into the work of parsing out the meaning of being.

In the midst of all of Jackson’s passionate images and questions comes Facebook in a puckish tone. The speaker lists various posts leading the reader to consider the absurdity of human exhibition. This poem also sets up the final section of the book as its content jauntily intimates our individual human-ness is not all that different from others.


Section III: This final section of Out Of Place offers poems of reminder, apology, and the way forward. The collection’s title poem offers,

   No matter what language

the owl speaks, there in no answer that satisfies us.


Then Jacob’s Fear,

   How perverse to excuse one nightmare with another.


Why should our words be indictments,


Abraham’s Journey states,

   We have to turn into each other.

Certainty offers,

No one knows why it happened that way and not the other way.


Richard Jackson’s Out of Place is a culling of human weaknesses and reveals the juxtaposition between our need to not only experience but understand the abstraction of love and what these needs can become when twisted. It should be required reading for future generations. Keep a copy in your car and another on your nightstand.


Insiders note: After writing this review I spoke with Richard about Out of Place and he mentioned organizing the book while listening to a Dvorak violin concerto. Conceivably a reading coupled with “Violin Concerto in A Minor Op. 53: I.Allegro ma non Troppo” by David Oistrakh, Kyrill Kondrashin, USSR Symphony Orchestra (recorded in Moscow 1949) might leave you on the sofa with an empty box of tissues.


Katch Campbell is a triathlete living in the woods outside of Philadelphia. During the school year if she isn't swimming, biking, or running a trail she is hauling around her two teens. In the summer she works as a sternman on the *FUNDY SPRAY* a Lobstering boat out of Lincolnville, Maine. Katch is an MFA candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in poetry and a reader /contributor for zomagazine.com you can follow her musings at blog-  katchcampbell.wordpress.com twitter- @katchcampbell

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