“Letter to Brooks,” Major Jackson’s tour de force poem in Hoops (2006), is a daring act of publicly intellectual intimacy. An “epistolary chat,” the poem is an unfurling act of gratitude. We witness Jackson bearing witness to luck and legacy, to the happy accident of knowing your idols—and the ripple effect of shepherding those generous idols home.
When Jackson was an aspiring poet he helped host a PBQ event at the Painted Bride Art Center featuring Ms. Brooks. He references her reading in “Letter to Brooks.” What you may not know is this: having invited Brooks to the art center, Major was slated to introduce her at the evening’s gala reading. But she flipped the script: in lieu of being introduced by Major, she introduced him. I can still recall the sound of her voice as she framed him, named him, invited him to read a poem first, before she herself read.
I call that moment up as a way of introducing PBQ’s “Introductions” series. This new feature of the magazine showcases new writers selected by the extended PBQ family of established poets. We have asked well-known authors who can trace their roots to PBQ to choose a suite of poems by an upcoming/emerging/promising student or young writer with whom they’ve worked. They will each select a writer whose work they admire and would like to present, a writer who they’d like to “introduce.”
Major Jackson pens our inaugural segment. And I can’t help but think of Gwendolyn Brooks. When I think about that moment long ago at the Painted Bride Art Center, about being in the audience, about how being in that moment then felt like witnessing Brooks conjure the future. The past was already pointing to the present, a place in which we’ve now arrived.
The link between the past/present/future informs this series. PBQ’s been at it long enough to see a generation of young writers establish flowering careers. The poets doing the introductions in this series were once on our editorial staff or contributed to PBQ (and their earliest work appears in our archive– pbq.drexel.edu). Though they might have started with us at PBQ, they’ve gone on to prestigious awards, positions, prizes.
With this series we have asked them to contribute to upcoming issues of PBQ by way of embracing, essentially, the spirit of what Brooks did for a young man in the early 90s. She saw the future in him.
This project works generationally, and it works as a kind of generosity: it opens up PBQ to both the past & the future. Writers from our past remember PBQ by identifying up-and-coming writers, but they also invite us to imagine a future moment of remembering—somewhere down the road you will recall the first time you read this poet, in our pages, now.