The Human in the Superhuman: Missing You Metropolis by Gary Jackson
“We indulge in the power / to inhabit a world a page removed from our own” (p. 81), writes Gary Jackson in “Reading Comic Books in the Rain,” the last poem of his first collection, Missing You, Metropolis. Selected by Yusef Komunyakaa as the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the book addresses life through the world of cartooned adventures and the stories of superheroes. The caped protagonists and villains are the main players in the impressive debut, and take on a new sort of humanity when mingled with and filtered through stories of growing up, the deaths of family members and friends, sexual encounters, and racial issues.
This could easily be a clumsy exercise in too obvious symbolism and metaphor. Superheroes could be tossed carelessly into black and white stories of good versus evil, of incredible gifts, of misunderstood strength. While these issues are undoubtedly addressed, the poet’s dexterity, sensitivity, and humor puts these subjects in a realm that surprises instead of bores. Like many comic books, characters appear and disappear as they are needed. The themes of death, immortality, love, sex, strength (both physical and emotional) and personal history — for humans and superhumans alike — are thoughtfully addressed. While ruminating on his beloved comic books, Jackson gives his readers insight into the very depths of human experience.
…the poet’s dexterity, sensitivity, and humor puts these subjects in a realm that surprises…
The first poem, appropriately called “The Secret Art of Reading a Comic,” alludes to W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” claiming, instead of “masters,” it was “The old comics [that] were never wrong” (p. 5). In it, Jackson recounts the stories of Thor and how “Mjolnir, his mystical hammer, slams / against the Black Knight’s helmet / with a thwack in red letters.” In the third stanza, “Captain America and his sidekick / Bucky chase a runaway plane.” The poem suggests comic book narrator reportage. With the play-by-play imagery and the staccato sounds and sentences, the rhythm of the cartoon strip — the separate boxes, the punctuated motion — is understood. The boxes encapsulating each action and onomatopoeia are drawn by the punctuation and the clever line breaks.
Jackson’s use of enjambment is particularly agile. He uses the unfinished phrase on one line to create a nanosecond of suspense before the end of the sentence, answering the question the enjambment poses. Enjambment is used particularly well in “Stuart,” a poem about the speaker’s oldest friend who appears throughout the text:
We emerged into the world
— p. 7
The ends of both the first and third lines leave so much room for the reader to guess the words that follow. They could have “emerged into the world” years apart, as twins, by Caesarean section; the mothers’ friendship could have sparked a bad memory, could have been started by a traumatic event, or could have begun from their own mothers’ friendship. Jackson has an ability to choose words that are sometimes big and broad (like the world) and can be unbreakably linked to one specific word (as “triggered” is to gun and to trauma). In this stanza, “the world” leads to one room, and “triggered” leads to new life, catching the reader delightedly off-guard.
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