In our lead-up to the 2018 Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival, we have invited student editors for Elan, An International Student Literary Magazine, to share personal profiles of the writers attending the festival.
— Profile by Lindsay Yarn, Digital Media Editor for Elan Literary Magazine
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.