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Farewell, Jackson Wheeler

June 10, 2017

Poet, art collector, community activist Jackson Wheeler

Last night, June 9 before 9pm, surrounded by friends and family poet Jackson Wheeler, 64, passed on from this life experience to the next one. He had fainted on April 21, 2015 and they discovered and removed a tumor in his brain. While he recovered in time and was able to rejoin the poetry community and his Arcade reading series at the Carnegie  Art Museum in spring of 2016, by January 2017, the last time I saw him, he was not faring well.

By the publication party of his recent book Was I Asleep last weekend, he was unable to attend (order his book here). Instead, friends and loved ones read the poems which were recorded for him to listen to during the final days of his life. Here’s a poem by Jackson Wheeler from that book which you can order here:

Fragrant Journey
                     for Thong Pisey
 
I have eaten the sticky rice
The spicy curry. My lips
Have been moistened by
Mr. Lee’s excellent plums
In coconut milk.
 
I have listened to the saffron-robed
Monks chant the 10,000 blessings
The prayers of farewell, the karmic directions.
 
I have plucked one leaf from the ground
Beneath the Bodhi tree and I have greeted
You in an honorable fashion – the divine spark
In me bowing to the Buddha spark within you.
 
I have greeted all the members of your family
Who rejoice in your long life – one journey has
Ended – for your next journey I leave incense and
Scented petals by your small, still hands.
 

Social worker, art collector, philanthropist, poet, Jackson Wheeler deeply influenced our community in many ways. Following a study of ceramics at Ventura College in the late 1970s, he began collecting local art including works by gauvin, George Hitchcock (who we were both mentored by), Otto Heino, Horace Bristol, Carlisle Cooper, Gerd Koch, Sherry Loehr, Hiroko Yoshimoto, Susan Petty, and Beatrice Wood.  Jackson’s advice to would-be collectors: “Buy what you love, what moves you,” and with his passing, Jackson’s collection has been promised to  Oxnard’s Carnegie Art Museum which hosted his Arcade Poetry Series for many years.

Jackson’s poetry was strongly influenced by growing up in a rural environment with strong oral traditions in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains.

As you can hear in the videos, his voice retained that beautiful southern lilt.

There is a tradition amongst poets to produce an “Ars Poetica,” and Jackson’s is one of my favorites. The first time I heard him read it gave me the shivers, and I asked if I could share it with my students and on my blog; it was originally published in Bear Flag Republic. Here it is again:

ARS POETICA

Because I was sung to as a child. Because my father shot himself when I was ten. Because my mother took in ironing and worked as a janitor. Because, my mother would say, “I could turn on the radio and you would lie in your crib and listen, quiet as a mouse”. Because there was singing: Kitty Wells, The Louvin Brothers, The Stanley Brothers, The Carter Family, The Stoneman Family, and when I was older, Saturday afternoons with my father’s mother, her dark Indian eyes glittering in the twilight of the room – boxing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, announced by Harry Thornton. Because I watched my uncles slaughter hogs, because I watched my mother kill a chicken for dumplings, because I watched the Rescue Squad drag the Nantahala Lake for drowned vacationers, up from Florida. Because Southern Appalachia was imagined by someone else – I just lived there, until I read about it in a book, other than the King James Bible, which is “all true” my mother said and says, “every jot and St. Matthew tittle of it”. Because God is a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a night wrestler, a swathe of blood, a small still voice, a whisper in Mary’s ear. Because my family is rank with alcoholics, wife beaters, spendthrifts, and big-hearted people, who give the shirts off their backs. Because their stories lie buried in the graveyards, because their stories have been forgotten, because their stories have been misremembered. Because my father’s people said they were from Ireland, down Wexford way. Because my father’s father baptized people, because my father’s mother bore a child out of wedlock and was part Indian. Because my mother’s father got his leg crushed at the quarry, because my mother’s mother died of brain cancer; My friends think I talk too much, don’t talk enough; that I’m too queer for company that I’m not queer enough. My mother’s people were Scots and Welsh, three cheers for the beard of Brady Marr, three cheers for the blood on the shields of the Keiths from Wick, three cheers for immigration, the waves of it and the desperation behind it. Let’s hear it for King’s Mountain and the Scots’ revenge for Culloden. Three cheers for extended family, the nameless cousins, all the petty griefs and regrets, the novels never written, the movies never made, the solace of the bottle, the solace of sex, the solace of loneliness of which there is plenty. All hail the poetic arts, and the art of poetry and the knowledge at the heart of it all: Words bear witness.

Jackson Wheeler

Ed Elrod wears a hat inscribed with words from Jackson Wheeler’s “Ars Poetica” from his recent book “Was I Asleep.” Stay tuned for information on how to order your own hat as a fundraiser to cover the substantial costs of Jackson’s final care.

 

Farewell, Jackson. You were truly a gentle man and beloved on this earth. Thank you for sharing with us your many gifts.

Late Fragment by Ray Carver
New Path to the Waterfall

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved,
to feel myself beloved on the earth

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Marianne Szijj permalink
    June 11, 2017 11:06 am

    Farewell old friend and mentor. I am so very thankful for the time we spent together both personslly and professionally. You were a wonderful gift to us all and will Forever hold a special place in my heart and no doubt, the hearts of many others.

  2. Carey permalink
    December 2, 2017 3:28 pm

    Thank you for this post. I was very sorry to read that Jackson Wheeler had passed away.
    I knew him only slightly, mainly from poetry readings at the Daily Grind in Ventura in 1998-
    1999. His poetry, and especially, his delivery of it was quite special. I will remember him
    well. Rest in Peace, Jackson.

Trackbacks

  1. Remembering Jackson Wheeler 7/8/17 | art predator

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