Jackson Wheeler: Ars Poetica

There is a tradition amongst poets to produce an “Ars Poetica.” One of my favorites by Oxnard poet Jackson Wheeler has just been published in Bear Flag Republic:


Because I was sung to as a child. Because my father shot himself when I was ten. Because my mother took in ironing and worked as a janitor. Because, my mother would say, “I could turn on the radio and you would lie in your crib and listen, quiet as a mouse”. Because there was singing: Kitty Wells, The Louvin Brothers, The Stanley Brothers, The Carter Family, The Stoneman Family, and when I was older, Saturday afternoons with my father’s mother, her dark Indian eyes glittering in the twilight of the room – boxing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, announced by Harry Thornton. Because I watched my uncles slaughter hogs, because I watched my mother kill a chicken for dumplings, because I watched the Rescue Squad drag the Nantahala Lake for drowned vacationers, up from Florida. Because Southern Appalachia was imagined by someone else – I just lived there, until I read about it in a book, other than the King James Bible, which is “all true” my mother said and says, “every jot and St. Matthew tittle of it”. Because God is a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a night wrestler, a swathe of blood, a small still voice, a whisper in Mary’s ear. Because my family is rank with alcoholics, wife beaters, spendthrifts, and big-hearted people, who give the shirts off their backs. Because their stories lie buried in the graveyards, because their stories have been forgotten, because their stories have been misremembered. Because my father’s people said they were from Ireland, down Wexford way. Because my father’s father baptized people, because my father’s mother bore a child out of wedlock and was part Indian. Because my mother’s father got his leg crushed at the quarry, because my mother’s mother died of brain cancer; My friends think I talk too much, don’t talk enough; that I’m too queer for company that I’m not queer enough. My mother’s people were Scots and Welsh, three cheers for the beard of Brady Marr, three cheers for the blood on the shields of the Keiths from Wick, three cheers for immigration, the waves of it and the desperation behind it. Let’s hear it for King’s Mountain and the Scots’ revenge for Culloden. Three cheers for extended family, the nameless cousins, all the petty griefs and regrets, the novels never written, the movies never made, the solace of the bottle, the solace of sex, the solace of loneliness of which there is plenty. All hail the poetic arts, and the art of poetry and the knowledge at the heart of it all: Words bear witness.

Jackson Wheeler

(My other favorite Ars Poetica is by Jen Hofer!)