Didi Jackson: Breeding human connection through poetry
“Sometimes our motivations aren’t what we asked for—they are given to us.”
That is the experience of Visiting Assistant Professor of English Didi Jackson, who joined Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science in Spring 2021. A true lover of the humanities, Jackson brings to A&S a deep passion for telling stories through poetry and visual art.
Jackson’s personal story is one of loss, healing, and resilience, and she has used her poetic talents to breed connection with others. After losing her husband to suicide, Jackson wrote her first book of poetry, Moon Jar, which examines her life-altering and heart-rending loss. Initially Jackson wasn’t comfortable publicly sharing her pain from such a deeply personal event, but when she saw how it could impact others, she changed her mind.
“So much of our world makes it hard to heal,” said Jackson. “If my book can help demonstrate to others how to be resilient or how to be able to get through this moment, I’ve accomplished my goal.”
Although Jackson’s book resonated with readers who have endured similar pain, it also provided a cathartic experience for Jackson as she wrote about the complexity of her grief. Poetry has the ability to humanize, says Jackson, and that is what she loves most about it.
“When I’m discussing a poem with my students, we are all sharing the human experience of that person who wrote it,” said Jackson. “It gives us a sense of empathy, and it opens doors to experiencing the lives of other people that we might not otherwise.”
This semester Jackson is teaching a writing seminar on Women Poets in America, which explores the poetry of women in America and examines critical ideas of gender, the construction of female identity, sexism, and gender discrepancies. While Jackson is helping her class explore these ideas, she is also looking forward to what she can learn from her students.
“There’s a constant newness with teaching,” said Jackson. “I could bring poems I’ve taught for the last seven years to a class, and someone could see something completely new in that poem. And I love that.”
“It’s hard to overstate how happy we are for Didi Jackson to join our department,” said Dana Nelson, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair of English and American Studies. “Her poetry is important, her passion for teaching is energizing, and even better, her passion for the complexities, the artistry, the accidents and glories of human being make her such a wonderful colleague, teacher, artist, friend and person.”