William James Lofton-Jackson Interview, with Davon Loeb
William James Lofton-Jackson, thank you for your service in the U.S. military. I anticipate this interview finds you well and safe; which brings me to the first question, poetry and the U.S. military do not seem synonymous with each other. So how did your deployment in Afghanistan help you discover a passion for writing poetry? Additionally, is there something specifically experiential about deployment versus being in the U.S. that affects your work?
Thank you, for opening a space for my voice to be free. Both my military service and my poetry are very important to me. They encourage me to be strong, yet vulnerable. On January 5, 2013, my mother died and my heart was broken by the person I was in a relationship with. This happened within the same year that I discovered I was being deployed to Afghanistan. So, essentially, I was fighting two wars, one was internally, while the other created a more palpable sense of a physical death. I’ve always been an artist, but there’s not much paint and canvas available in Afghanistan, so I was left to pen and paper. This is how I handled my battle against depression. I wrote almost every day, no matter the setting, whether it be in a helicopter or a bunker. I traveled a lot so I always missed the spoken word events that took place on Bagram Airfield; but one day, I had the opportunity to make it. I performed my first piece of poetry and that was the first time I felt complete. That moment changed my idea of intimacy and purpose. I knew no matter what, poetry had become an essential part of who I had become in the warzone.
I love narrative poetry; and when reading your work, I was instantly drawn to your stories. There was a connective tissue that bound these poems together, something other than voice and style, and I think it was the relational presence of God. Can you explain the relationship between God and your narrators?
As a poet, I’m learning that the most important thing is to be honest. God’s presence in my life is the anchor of all the truth that I know and have known for a very long time. I’ve witnessed a lot within my short 25 years of life. Both of my biological parents have passed away; my sister and I were tossed around in the foster care system; I have seen firsthand what drugs do to homes; I’ve been sexually molested, and experienced the mental and physical effects of being in a literal war zone. A person does not go through all of these events and survive without having a source of light. God has been that for me. I understand that as I am connected to God, God is connected to everything and everyone around me. It is my responsibility to acknowledge the light which has given me strength. The most amazing notion to me is that the Creator of the very air that I’m currently inhaling and exhaling found me worthy enough to partake in this moment. Now that is mind blowing.
The structures of your poems are a little nontraditional—writing in paragraph blocks rather than separate stanzas. I really enjoyed this enjambment. Also, in your poems, “How Do You Pray About Me” and “The Holy Ghost and Black Women” you create extra space instead of line breaks. So, how important is structure in crafting your stories? And how does that physical space serve as a poetic tool?
For me, Poetry is freedom. Structure is sometimes important to emphasize a point or to project the arrangement of how my emotions may feel. I try to display that for the reader. I’m just now really starting to use stanzas and structure. It’s more out of respect for the poets that came before me; however, it is not a necessary tool every time I write. I want to be free when I’m writing and whatever liberation comes with that…I just go with the flow.
Besides having excellent craft, your poems are deeply emotional. Your writing is loving, sentimental, and rich. Each narrator explores some different version of worship—a husband, a lover, a child of God. Can you explain where your heart fits in your work? And how vital is it for you to let readers hear it beat?
When I first started writing, I would imitate different poets. I wanted to be able to make others feel the chills that I often experienced when reading Donte Collins or Jasmine Mans. I desired for my poetry to have hands too. So, I decided that the most effective method to get this accomplished was to tell it all. Be honest to my moments, the ones that I experienced. My work is my breath. Literally, my poetry is who I am. It’s important for me to share my work because I want people to not feel lonely like I’ve felt before. I want readers to understand that healing comes in different forms and it’s okay to show others the monsters in your closet. I’ve allowed a lot of my secret things breathe freely in my work. Every day I become a little more liberated! I write for the readers, but it’s about learning to know myself and healing from a lot of traumatic situations.
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.