Black Voice

From first glance, Jamal Parker is a very successful young writer. He has been champion to a number of poetry slams, worked as an editor in different publications, and is a Douglas Anderson graduate. A lot of his work, written and in the literary community, involves speaking through the perspective of being a Black man and pushing the achievements of Black people. I personally connect to this aspect of Parker as a writer, as I too often write about the being Black and what the Black experience is to me. Parker has judged for a poetry competition for the Campaign of Black Male Achievements and is a member of the Black Boy Fly collective, an artistic performance team.

Just from reading the titles of Parker’s voice, I get a feeling that he is an unapologetic voice who is more than willing to ask questions and interrogate to get the answers. As I read his poem “and in this nightmare a white supremacist tried to kill me,” I felt tension throughout the entire piece. It felt like straining, like not knowing what was going to happen, falling apart because of it, then coming to an open end, still unknowing, yet learned. A technique Parker uses is imagery. The last lines (“his intentions are as bold as burnt crosses on Sabbath morning”) are stunning. This image is very strong on its own. Although the poem is full of tension, this image is the most packed and uses masterful language.

Continuing to search through Parker’s poetry, I noticed he often ends his poems on assertions. Poems are very short and compact. It begins, develops, and concludes a story usually in a small number of lines. This can make poetry harder to chew as it is so much in so little time. Sometimes a poem needs to cram, to set things against each other in a tight space to create friction. I believe Parker is very efficient at giving just the right amount when it is needed. He explains the contents of his poem then crafts an assertion at the very end to get that right amount of direct and compact. This plays out in his poem “Last Monday.” In this poem, Parker describes what it’s like to be a Black student in a classroom of ignorance. Throughout, he shows his feelings of injustice and anger through short language and tone in lines like “like my brothers and I aren’t soon to be buried there” and “like she’s chewed on the word before.” He ends “College is where I discovered, being an activist in a classroom setting is actually holding my mouth quiet—” which speaks to the frustration the speaker is feeling, the final assertion, external and internal anger.

What makes Jamal Parker a masterful writer to me is his need to dive into personal experience. His work is full of clear voice and emotion that show how unafraid he is to show himself through writing.

Lindsay Yarn, Digital Media Editor

What a 30 Year Old Book can Teach a 17 Year Old

Maddie 30th Anniversary PictureOur literary magazine, Elan has been around for 30 years, almost two of me. I imagine that through the years, with the many different staff members, editors, teachers, and readers, that this book has learned a few things. When I first came on staff and took on the position of Junior Poetry Editor, I went back through some of the older editions of Elan and tried to figure out how the editors before me picked the poems that would be in the book. I decided it wasn’t editors that picked apart poems and threw them in “yes” and “no” piles, it was the book that made the decisions. The essence and aesthetic of Elan showed me that we want poems that speak to the big and small, that can be read and understood immediately or others that need to be unpacked. It told me to look at where a poem takes my breath, where it makes me grimace, where it makes me want more, those are our poems.

Along with teaching me how to feel poetry, it’s taught me how to come out of my shell. This book has so much to offer people and as part of the staff, our job is to convince people that they need this book in their life. You need to read these pieces that students have poured themselves into, you need to invite them in, let them settle inside your soul and tell you a story. It’s become a drive and passion to share what this book has to offer with my own friends and family, the community of Jacksonville, and the community of writers. I’ve met and had more conversations with random people that I never would have before by just walking up to them and asking if they enjoy reading and writing, and just letting the conversation go from there. It has almost always led somewhere interesting. At Art Walk, I met two former theater majors and got to learn about their time at Douglas Anderson. I also met an older gentleman who was so excited for Writers’ Festival, he actually had a countdown going.

So, as a member of the Elan staff, in my year here, it has taught me a lot, but I think it has something even more to offer to our readers. Readers who can be any age and any gender and any type of person, there is something in this book for everyone and it has been that way for 30 years, offering the same quality and raw material every time. Elan would also say to its readers that it’s best enjoyed curled up on the couch with your favorite tea, taking in the sweet musings of teenagers from thirty years ago to now and all they have to say.

-Madison Dorsey, Junior Poetry Editor