Pruning Roses: The Transformative Words of Reagan Jackson

by Marcus Harrison Green

Pruning roses…

That’s the way Reagan Jackson described the craft of writing to me the first time we met.  It was during a one-on-one writing session at Hillman City’s Tin Umbrella.

She still doesn’t know, but I almost trembled with intimidation that first meeting. I was only months removed from blogging in my underwear in the basement of my mom’s house after I had the (delusional idea) to forego the lucrative and luxurious world of high finance to eke out a “living” as a journalist.

She, on the other hand, was an accomplished poet, spoken word artist, and author, who could do with a sentence what Mozart once did with piano keys and Van Gogh did with a paint brush: stir beauty, capture passion, and treats the world to something that’s loose translation equates to genius.

As the aroma of Ethiopian Java beans filled the air she asked me to write the best sentence I could, which in those days meant usage of diamond studded words when those worth a nickel would do. Out popped a laboriously constructed fifty-word sentence replete with so many serial commas, I’m surprised any remain in existence today.

Shorter, she said…

It took a while, but after several “shorters”, and flashbacks to the sociopathic jazz instructor in the movie Whiplash, I arrived at a 10 word sentence she found said everything and more than the 50 word verbal monstrosity my pen had spawned earlier in our session.

“See”, she said, mentally transporting us to the rose garden at her house on Kenyon Street. “It’s like pruning roses, clipping away at the unnecessary, the wasteful, the superficial, until you arrive at your finest and most authentic form of expression… much like life.”

She then smiled what I’ve come to know as the Regan Jackson smile she directs at her protégés. The one emitting warmth, which also communicates “your best is yet to come.”

It’s one I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, seeing it many times in her nurturing of hundreds of girls at Young Women Empowered (Y-WE). Reagan has turned down more lucrative careers to work as the program manager of their predominately immigrant and young women of color leadership development program, teaching writing workshops and organizing seminars with influential women.

I see it so often at her readings around the South End of Coco LaSwish, her children’s book series of the rainbow tailed fish, as adoring children absorb its theme of inclusion and acceptance.

A native Wisconsinite, she gives it liberally when we sit at our favorite watering hole, Jude’s, to talk about the state of affairs in our neighborhood of Rainier Beach and the overall South End, and she says, “I’ll be damned if I’m going anywhere else.”

That smile is  one I see her give her own work appearing in the Globalist, Crosscut, and our own publication, viewing her words as antidote to society’s chronic diseases of white supremacy, patriarchy, and an endless list of phobias including those with the prefix Islam and Trans.

She’s continued to give it to me throughout the years, when I’ve been at my wits end, running on fumes, ready to discard dreams, ready to return to the world of barren decadence and illusory satisfaction the finance world offers, when the world hands you more negativity than your spirit is able to consume.  

Reagan Jackson 1
Reagan Jackson in pure she-ro mode. Photo courtesy of Reagan Jackson

I try to mimic that smile when I tell her she shares companionship on a pedestal with Audrey Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Rita Dove, except she’s Reagan Jackson: incredulously slept on, woefully underappreciated, and criminally undervalued (especially in Seattle). But loved…loved just the same by every organizer, aspiring writer, activist, and local fortunate enough to be treated to a phrase of hers.

She is my mentor, my sister in arms, but above all else my friend.

My friend, who gives more than she receives, softens defeats, sweetens victories, soothes heartbreaks, summons laughter, and fuels dreams.

Who deserves her words, her ideas, and her poetry to be as widely read and distributed as can be.

While the mastery of pruning roses still eludes me from time to time, I do know it’s best to give loved ones their flowers while they’re still alive to smell them.

Here’s your bouquet Reagan Jackson.

Check out Reagan Jackson’s spoken word performance as a part of the Rainier Beach BAAMFest June 23rd at 11:00am.

Featured photo courtesy of Y-We