Lit House Talk: Jericho Brown

By Adam Ashcraft
Lit House Beat Reporter
On Sept. 29, the Rose O’Neill Literary House welcomed poet Dr. Jericho Brown to kick off the Living Writers series. The series will host four poets to give readings throughout the fall semester.
Dr. Brown shared a collection of samples from both of his books as well as previews from his upcoming publication. His reading of “Prayer of the Backhanded” hooked the audience and set the stage for the rest of the event. He said “Father, I bear the bridge / Of what might have been/ a broken nose. I lift to you / What was a busted lip. Bless/ The boy who believes / His best beatings lack / Intention, the mark of the beast.” Some of his most powerful readings were done from memory, giving Dr. Brown an opportunity to capture the listeners directly and draw them into his work.

Jericho Brown
During his talk, Brown focused on the criticism of sex in poetry and read samples from both of his books.

He then continued with a few of his personal poems, speaking through the perspective of once living people as well as his own characters. He used their voices to create vivid imagery and bring their stories to life. Through his character in “Heart Condition” he said, “God gives every body its pains. / When pain mounts in my body, I try thinking / Of my white forefathers who hurt their black bastards / Quite legally. I hate to say it, but on pain can ease / Another.”
Brown did not shy away from sensitive issues. In “Bullet Points” he addresses the deaths of African-American men in custody of the police that are brushed off as suicide, “When I kill me, I will kill me / The same way most Americans do, / I promise you… / … I promise that if you hear / Of me dead anywhere near / A cop, then that cop killed me.” His strong message comes at a time when this issue is fresh in the minds of Americans.
Brown finished the reading by answering questions from the audience. He took the time to express his views on violence in poetry, the opinions of others, and people who don’t like poetry.“People love to hate poetry,” he said. “But they never say ‘I hate music,'” even though they are so similar and there are so many different types.
When discussing criticism of sex in his poetry he said, “I understand that not everybody wants to have sex all the time… sex is a universal enough subject to write about. Why can’t I write a poem about the thing that we’re thinking about?”
Brown is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Whiting Writers Award and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Brown is the author of two books of poetry: “Please,” winner of the American Book Award, and “The New Testament,” winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and the Thom Gunn Award. His poetry has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, The New Republic, and “The Best American Poetry.”
This series will continue with guests Denise Duhamel will continue the Living Writers series on Oct. 6, followed by Cathy Linh Che on Oct. 27, and Timothy Donnelly on Nov. 15.

One thought on “Lit House Talk: Jericho Brown

  1. Dr. Brown was a judge on Amazon’s Little A poetry contest for 2015. I’m wondering if he can e-mail me any info for submission (dates and e address) for Little A for 2016. Thanks

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