major and EI
Visiting poet Major Jackson stands tall with Exclusive Ink on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

In a mere hour and a half at Shortridge, award-winning poet Major Jackson managed to inspire.

No two writers are alike, so it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect when someone comes to town as part of Butler’s Visiting Writers Series. Some writers are great speakers. Others are naturally more introverted. Some prefer a laid-back atmosphere. Others are more comfortable in an academic setting.

As mentors, we were all rather excited about the prospect of such an accomplished poet working closely with our Exclusive Ink group at Shortridge. For weeks, we hyped his visit by reading to our students from two of Major’s collections, Leaving Saturn and Holding Company, even having them mimic his style during one of our writing exercises. We figured Major Jackson would deliver, but his visit exceeded our wildest expectations.

When Major walked into Room 238, he introduced himself to everyone there – the Butler mentors, our Exclusive Ink crew, and even members of the SHS football team who have been coming to us for tutoring. Before Doug and Chris even got the opportunity to announce his arrival, the prolific poet had already won the trust of the Shortridge students, who were ready to hang on his every word when he finally got up to speak.

major reads
Major reads from Leaving Saturn, explaining the stories behind the poems.

Major was articulate and genuine when he spoke, and he provided context for his poems before and after he read them. The students were totally captivated by his performance and his storytelling ability. We all were really. What was most encouraging to us was the level of engagement the students had with the material. They seemed willing to listen to Major talk for hours, to hear even more details about Steve and his imaginary cars and the barbershop legends from his neighborhood.

zuri and major
Zuri shares her work with the visiting poet.

When we took a break to let Major see how Exclusive Ink works on a normal afternoon, many of the students gathered around the poet, looking share their poems with him. He seemed to love it, and the students did, too. It was truly inspiring to see the relationship between poets starting to take shape after literally minutes of knowing each other.

We wanted to capitalize on the energy and let the students read some of their best pieces before Major had to leave. They delivered as always, but many held their heads noticeably higher and enunciated their words with more pride. After all, a famous poet had just told them that their work was awesome. Major seemed as enthralled with their readings as they were with his, as he ended up recording some of the students on his iPhone.

major video
Major takes video of a memorable Exclusive Ink performance before hitting the road.

Never was the power of the moment more evident than when Doug, Chris, and Major were about to walk out the door to go to the airport, and one of our Exclusive Ink regulars said, “I went through a period of not writing recently, but since you came, I’m going to start writing again.”

So far the student has delivered. Just as Major Jackson did.

major and mentors
A parting shot with this semester’s Butler mentors. Thanks for a great afternoon, Major!

Contributed by Luke Wortley. Photos from Gerry Justice.