David Michael Jackson is the publisher of the ezine Artvilla, a poet, self-described outsider artist, musician and songwriter. Born in 1948 to small-acreage tobacco farmers in Tennessee, his mother is Brazilian, his father Scottish/Irish. Jackson was educated as a mechanical engineer, and currently designs products for a major appliance manufacturer.
IN TENNESSEE: ENGINEERING THE POEM
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID MICHAEL JACKSON
by Ward Kelley
Ward Kelley: At what age did you first start writing poetry?
David Michael Jackson: My first poem? In childhood, my two brothers and I started reading four to five books a week for a reason we never suspected -- my mother. By the 9th grade I had read hundreds of books. That’s about the time my English teacher, Miss English -- that's right, Miss English, later to be Mrs. Shumacher, a college professor -- gave me an assignment. The assignment was to write a poem. I forgot all about the poem until three years later, when my younger brother, Wayne, took the same class and Miss English read my poem as an example of how to do the assignment. It was this experience that led both brothers to write. I have only two early poems. My poetry never flowed again until after Wayne's death in 1989 [editor’s note: Wayne suffered a fall as an ironworker, and his injuries led to a fatal ear infection]. I still remember my first poem:
Love is like a flower
blooming in the spring
from a lowly seedling
to a stately king
if it is not cared for
if it's left alone
love will surely wither
gone forever gone
Surely this is the poem of an innocent 14 year old . . . because all love withers, as we later learn; but I wonder if that 14 year old wasn't wiser than this old man. Maybe we lose wisdom at puberty and don't regain it until we’re old, if then!
Another part of this was the death of my father when I was twelve. I didn’t understand it at all. I remember the night of his death, going outside by myself and looking up at a sky filled with stars. I looked and looked. At the time I could only look at the stars, but if you put all the experiences together, you have the birth of a poet.
WK: Did poetry lead you to start Artvilla?
DMJ: Art itself started Artvilla. I actually started by producing art at the age of 39. My engineering background led to a certain level of computer expertise. Within a month after connecting with the internet, I had a website up displaying my art. Soon I started adding poetry. After moving the website twice and starting over, I decided that a dotcom address is more permanent. Artvilla was born. The name was available. Pure and simple. Named as an artpage, hence the nomen, "ArtPage Images" and "Artvilla," The page found tough competition among art pages (they were all named ArtPage this or that). Only in electronic poetry magazines did the name "ArtPage Images" land just between "Apples and Oranges" and "Atlantic Monthly at Yahoo." Between two of the biggies. The little guy can compete on the web. In April 2000, Artvilla recorded 7711 visits.
Artvilla was possible because of my technical background. Engineers rule on the net. Artvilla started as an art site, then I added poetry, then cats, then music, and now Schmutt the dog. It started as a homepage . . . and still is, somewhat . . . many sites evolve this way. At first they feature the owner -- a vanity site. Then over time the vanity lessens; the owner slowly moves to the background and becomes more unselfish, like Summer Breeze.
WK: When I visited Artvilla, I came to understand you do much more than poetry. Music has the same hold on you as poetry, doesn’t it?
DMJ: It’s a different love though. I didn’t do this music to get anywhere with it, per se, although dreams still pop out now and then. I made this music for me . . . because I like these songs . . . but believe me, I have no presumption of talent . . . I just like these songs, and you can hear what the singer is saying. I feel that if I can portray my song at all, then maybe I'll hear someone else sing it some day. I call them folk songs, although one can say that folk died when Dylan left. But it’s due back, you know; and here’s a DMJ prediction: it’ll be back sooner than you think. You might say it’s already happening out West.
I have no comment on my voice, but I will comment on the songs themselves . . . damn wonderful how poetry slips into them.
My musical influences are Woody Guthrie, Leonard Cohen and David Ball . . . with a little Townes Van Zandt . . . and don’t forget Guy Clark.
WK: As an engineer, do you ever feel schizophrenic in the service of poetry, in that many people see a dichotomy between science and poetry? For example, Charles Van Doreen writes in his 'A History of Knowledge,' regarding scientists' dutiful and constant struggle to remain objective, "They do not wander out onto the deck at sunset and look at the world with wonder, as a poet might . . . They do not claim more than they can prove, and often even less. But they are very proud of their calling and prefer to talk to other scientists rather than anybody else, especially poets, who tend to make them feel uncomfortable, to put them down. (Of course poets also feel scientists return the favor.)"
DMJ: The dichotomy is external and internal. Pollock defined art as a lark, and went on to create drip paintings. Bukowski defined poetry itself, and went on to drip words onto paper with a sly smile. Engineers don’t argue with Mr. Newton, nor should they. It is Newton who defined and outlined our modern world. He invented calculus and differential equations because he needed them to invent physics as we know it today. He didn’t invent them until he needed them. This is the engineer -- find the need then fill it. Newton made the box. You know which box: the box I’m told I’m out of . . . that’s the poet! The poet survives if he understands his environment. Food is necessary for art. Don’t apologize to yourself for the choices you make. The future is infinity, and in an infinite universe all things are possible. Maybe in a few universe-explosions from now . . . we’ll meet again. This last thought is the scientist/engineer being poetic. And this:
they are the same,
if it’s a big bang
let’s bang baby
’cause the sun’s gonna explode
in a few billion
or haven’t you
WK: Which poets influenced you?
DMJ: Early in life we are taught Wordsworth, Blake, Shelley and Emily Dickinson. When my father died, I remember reading a poem by Wordsworth, where he had lost someone, and the world hadn’t stopped to notice. The last lines were:
But she is in her grave
And oh the difference to me.
As a child those two lines burned permanent neurons into me, and helped form the poet. Imagine the power of those two lines! Imagine the significance of this lady’s death -- a stranger -- on a child grieving over his own loss! It appeared to me she hadn’t died unnoticed at all. Because of Wordsworth, the poet!
Later, T. S. Eliot’s "J. Alfred Prufrock," of course. At some point we all depart from the required reading list and are influenced more by our own opinions; then we become more specifically ourselves. My next influences were Leonard Cohen, who gets me through all my low times, and Charles Bukowski -- Hank was always Hank and no one else. Bukowski teaches us to at least try to break out of our molds, even if you jump into another. I say Wordsworth and Bukowski are the same somehow. One rhymes without it getting in his way, the other denies rhyme and still gets there.
As the internet came suddenly into our lives, everything changed. Our favorites were not on any required reading list. Poets are suddenly everywhere, and its hard to tell whether a poet or a website is well-visited or not. Abruptly everyone has an equal chance -- poetry is exploding on the net. All of a sudden I find myself influenced by poets such as yourself, Summer Breeze, Janet Buck, Elisha Porat and Charlotte Mair. These are the poets working the net. They get read.
WK: You’ve described yourself as an outsider poet. Does poetry, by its very nature, place the poet outside the modern herd, just as shamans found themselves a step apart from the tribe?
DMJ: Poetry and art are the same. It is from outside that the poet works, always taking a step back for observation, peeling the cover off the sardine can, so to speak. My painting of the apples is made of paint not apples, my poem about the apples is comprised of words not apples. We are outside of the "thing itself". Outside of the herd? No, the poet is carried along by the herd too. It seems we observe things as we are bounced along. Yes, there is dichotomy in my answer. It's a question every poet should answer.
WK: Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, once said that poets are simply
those who have made a profession and a lifestyle of being in touch with
their bliss. Do you think so?
DMJ: In touch with finding that bliss among tears, the poet is in touch with the simple life much like the monk, the musician, the artist.
WK: What is the source of your poetry? From where do the poems come?
DMJ: They come from the ends of my fingers as I type. They use to come out the end of a pen but I'm a modern guy now. This is a playful way of saying that it requires no effort to write my poetry. I once asked a friend, "I don't know what to say when people ask about the purpose or meaning in my art. What do I say to them?"He replied " Just say I took canvas, brushes and paint and this is what I came up with." People call me creative. That's not true. I create. Creativity is associated with action, not attribute. I write. It is that action that makes me a writer.