cover image Roll Deep

Roll Deep

Major Jackson. Norton, $26.95 (80p) ISBN 978-0-393-24689-6

If Jackson (Holding Company) has a thesis in his fourth collection, it may be this line from the end of the book: “I would turn off the light/ and run my hands over my classmates’ coats/ as if playing tag with their bodies.” Throughout, Jackson plays with the concept of “rolling deep”—slang for having an entourage, living large, and carrying status. But the speakers in Jackson’s poems—alone in their crowded rooms—inhabit a world and language that is strangely hollow. They travel the world and visit amazing places (Greece, Spain, Brazil, Kenya), but are never quite comfortable. The people and places feel interchangeable and the experiences acutely similar, whether the poem’s subject is the richest of millionaires or a poverty-stricken kid who happens to be a chess master. Jackson writes in clear lines with unusual line breaks, recalling the natural speech and city rhythms of Frank O’Hara and Langston Hughes, but with an oddly flat tone. The language never reaches the lushness of the concept—a son is “as old as the stars” and a nameless partner in a bed is curled “like a snail/ in my arm’s crook.” There is a yearning for real human connection here, to literally roll deep in humanity, but it’s the emptiness of the coats that lingers. [em](Aug.) [/em]