paper • 100 pages • 17.95
ISBN: 978-1-954245-96-9
eISBN: 978-1-954245-97-6
March 2024 • Poetry

Truth Be Told

Linda Susan Jackson

Reviewed by The Washington Independent Review of Books

A stunning sophomore release, Linda Susan Jackson’s newest poetry collection, Truth be Told, looks at the myriad treasures and complexities of Black womanhood by channeling an eclectic cast whose rich interactions testify to the timeless neglect of girlhood, the bond of long-term friendship and the responsibilities of authorship. Here Pecola Breedlove, the protagonist from The Bluest Eye, addresses herself directly to Toni Morrison and connects, over time and space, with Persephone, a girl herself, cycling always toward the seasons, caught between an overbearing mother, an incomprehensible father and a grooming god; Lot’s wife sets the record straight about turning back; and our speaker writes to and through her lineage, memorializing her great-grandmother’s distilled wisdom and others who have impacted her, such as when she writes to the great blues singer, Etta James. In a meticulous inventory of our world and its historical inheritance, Jackson makes an undaunted cartographer, mapping “here: rag-wicked IED” to “there: t-shaped IUD,” from “here: the mother I longed for” to ” there: the mother I had.” If Jackson recognizes the distance between our ideals and our reality as a kind of tragedy, she also resists despair, enjoining us to close the gap with hope for the future and to: “Step here: light the fire/ Step there: fire the cannon.” Every poem is a spark struck, a cannonade hailing the resilient and enigmatic joy of language. “After decades with no history,” Jackson sagely celebrates, “That I sing at all is a mystery.” A mystery, yes, but moreover – a blessing for those of us enthralled by her song of love.

“Pecola’s Juggernaut” 

Ugly is pretty
generic (there’s enough to go around),
a name flung from the mirror I duck
but I hear what it says: Your living
is complete defiance.

All of this was foretold in my history, shaped
by storefront living in my latchkey world.

My ugly is alive like a plague bred
on maternal distance & rage, on a father
itching to run & drowning in drink.

To be the ordinary ugly daughter
of a less than ordinary woman
is an accident that could have
crushed any girl & probably has.

Ugly is not my enemy, it’s my private
deity, demanding worship from a song
that wets the wasteland my dry
shocked voice has become, a song
that soars me off the ground
into the bluest sky
in my eye.

Praise from Tracy K. Smith
Praise from A. Van Jordan
Praise from Tyehimba Jess

In our violence, in our need, in our appetite for every last thing, we are no different than even the most terrifying gods. What might heal us or make us whole? The truth, told tenderly or with bared teeth-which is what Linda Susan Jackson delivers in poem after astonishing poem. Truth Be Told is in every way a Revelation.

When Toni Morrison, in her Nobel Laureate Lecture, offers the writerly imperative to, “tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light,” Linda Susan Jackson heard her clearly. In Truth Be Told, Jackson explores womanhood with the precision of Morrison by extending the lives of the characters from The Bluest Eye, allowing them to speak to our present moment. There’s the wisdom of Morrison; the wisdom of Jackson; and the wisdom of young Pecola Breedlove, the protagonist of the novel, but there’s more: there’s also the lyric intensity, the music of the taut line, coupled with the sagacity, which is really all Jackson at the top of her game. And this would be plenty, but, yes, there’s even more. Jackson manages to hit us with her uses of enchantment not only by reviving the sisterhood of Persephone but also of the women-mothers, sisters, daughters, and lovers-in the world around us. This collection reads like a novel that is part bildungsroman, part roman á clef, and forms, as a whole, the interior life of many real and imagined people, who are dealing both with love and with loss, all of which makes up a life. All I can say is that if you don’t laugh a little, if your eyes don’t well up in tears a little, if you don’t learn anything between these pages, I’ll have to “summon an ancient refrain”: “With the blues-no need to explain.”

Linda Susan Jackson’s Truth Be Told conjures these poems to bloom between the breaths of Toni Morrison’s text and ancient mythology. She sings us a drylongso meditation on Black womanhood in the cauldron of America’s blue-eyed blues. From this Truth, we learn how to navigate the space between fiction and myth on the perilous boat of poetry till we land winded and whole on homeland’s shore the way “A bird in the night / flies her song through the darkness- / tremolo in blues.”