I recently had a conversation with a couple of other poets and writers where we talked about an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the 'inflation' current poets reputations. The author bemoans the fact that nowadays no poet wants to call another poet mearly 'adequate' -- or worse. Everyone has to be 'significant' in some way -- just in case they prove to be someone who History will prove to be still read and important fifty to one hundred years from now.
I say this in prelude to talking about the very sad news I got today about the passing of the thirty-something black gay poet Shelton Jackson. Author of three self-published books of poetry, I doubt that Shelton will be remembered as A Poet of the Ages. I also seriously doubt that he really would have cared about that. For him, poetry had a highly theraputic function: he wrote as a way to deal with his life as a black, gay, HIV+ man in his 20's, to look back on his past with honesty, and also as a way to map out a future as well. He also used his example and his work, to urge a greater openness among other young African Americans around issues of sexuality and health. These may not be things that matter to literary posterity; they did, however, make a difference in individual lives.
It could not have been easy for him here in Baltimore, to be an 'out' gay man at Morgan University. Like most HBCU's Morgan is very closeted: There are gay students, faculty, administrators and staff there; 'everyone knows this,' but it is not something that is talked about. To be Out there, even now, is to almost ensure being ostracised and marginalized. Shelton, bless him, refused to pretend to be something he was not.
Although we met face to face only a few times, I'm deeply saddened by this young man's passing. He was a very sweet, dear young man, and this just seems so....unfair. He had already faced down more challenges than most young people his age. It angers me that his life was cut so terribly short. He was still growing, developing, maturing. I'm stunned and hurt that he won't be around to help others and further develop his talents.
Shelton Jackson's "Profile in Courage" from HIV resourse website thebody.com.
His myspace page