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2014

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"I'm not scared of my fear:" Jericho Brown on craft, politics, and compassion in poetry

Photo of Jericho Brown reading poetry

When Jericho Brown read at James Madison University as part of the Furious Flower Poetry Center’s Reading and Performance series, he was greeted with a standing ovation. The audience was reacting not only to the power of his written words, but also to Brown’s performance, which was inflected with the cadences of sermons he’d heard growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana.

In an essay for Poetry, Brown writes that in church he learned that “a spoken thing is an artful thing.”

The influence of the church is explicit in Brown’s latest collection The New Testament, due out in September 2014 from Copper Canyon Press.  The book uses Biblical references while taking on themes of brotherhood, blackness, and sibling rivalry .  

In “1 Corinthians 13:11” he writes, “I was never alone, I owned/My brother’s shame of me. I loved/The words thou and thee. Both meant/My tongue in front of my teeth.”

Even while liming troubling subjects, Brown’s work is rich with the sensual joy of language. Winner of the 2009 American Book Award, his debut Please confronts the topic of domestic violence but is also about the allure and power of music.  

Brown engages thoughtfully and lovingly with big subjects: race, love, violence, family, and history. He writes in The Kenyon Review, “Every poem’s a love poem. Every poem is a political poem. So say the masters. Every love poem is political. Every political poem must fall in love.”

Brown teaches at Emory University and has received a Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliff Institute at Harvard University and a Whiting Writer’s Award, among other honors.

He will be reading at “Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry,” as well as moderating a panel on Saturday, September 27: “Going Too Far: The Queer Poetics Distraction from Issues of Race and Class.” For more information visit www.furiousflower2014.com.

In this three-part interview conducted by The Fight & the Fiddle editor Elizabeth Hoover, Brown takes on meaty topics with humor and warmth. 

Fear of the Subject | Brown discusses contemporary poets’ fear of writing about “anything that is on the ground,” the fraught idea of universality in literature, and how poetry creates an opportunity for its reader to open themselves up to the experiences of others.

Poetry as a Special Type of Information | Brown describes how he challenges himself to evolve as a writer and discusses New Testament, his new book on brotherhood and blackness.


As a queer black poet, what do you think of line breaks? | Brown talks about how the baggage readers bring to queer poetry obscures their ability to recognize its craft and his philosophy about the relationship between line breaks and fear.