[The Big Smoke reading group]
“Carefree as a Plantation Darky in Watermelon Time,” the title of one of the poems from Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke, is a derogatory expression from a newspaper report used to describe Jack Johnson while he was training for his fight with Jim Jeffries. Ironically, Matejka's Johnson uses this to describe the ease in which Johnson defeated Jim Jeffries’s younger brother, also named Jack. Throughout this volume of poetry, Johnson and Matejka are ever aware of the social contexts.
At the same time Johnson is also self-aware, and he privileges the value of possessing and exercising knowledge. As he comments on his lesser skilled opponent: “The younger/Jefferies was a game fighter, but he had/no elasticity & limited self-knowledge.”
What did you think about the nature of Johnson’s intelligence or perhaps Matejka’s thinking as you read this poem?
--Jeremiah Carter and Howard Rambsy II