Poetry, Vulnerability and Finding Your Voice with Jericho Brown
Hey, what's up? It's Chase! Welcome to another episode of the Chase drivers live show here on Creative Live, you know the show where I sit down with amazing humans and I unpacked their brains with the goal of helping you live your dreams and career in hobby and in life. Our guest today is the one and only Pulitzer prize winning poet, Jericho Brown. Now dr Brown is an amazing poet obviously if you win the Pulitzer, but more than that he is a speaker of truth, we cover all kinds of things in this episode besides poetry. But the underpinning of this is how do you do something that is hard and difficult and beautiful and inspiring and the thing that is your calling in life, whether that is pursuing a life of words and academics and um trying to drive and change in popular culture or whether it's to leave the job that you hate to become or be something that you want more than anything else in this world. I think it's fascinating if I asked 100 people what they want to do, the number of peop...
le who probably say I want to be a poet is right up there with the fewest the smallest number. And so right now you might be sitting there thinking I want to be a photographer, a designer. I want to start a startup. If if thinking that are saying those words out loud is intimidating because it seems like a wild, hairy, audacious called, try telling the world that you're going to be a poet and then becoming that thing and being one of the best in the world at it. That is the mindset a little bit of the background of dr Jericho Brown. Uh he performs a poem in this episode which is absolutely um it is incredible. Very, very powerful. That's at the end of the show so many other things, including his, we cover his book, the Tradition, which is the piece that he won the Pulitzer for. So powerful. Um so, if having some daily habits that support your big goals, if having a big audacious goal or if you are unclear about the power of words to transform um your mindset and popular culture at large, uh if any of that is interesting to you are going to love this episode, so I'm gonna go out of the way before we do um uh just getting out of the way and introduce again Dr Jericho Brown. Mhm, Mhm So Jericho has been a long time in the making, I want to say thank you for being here and huge welcome to the show, thank you so much. Chase, thank you for having me. I confessed before we started recording, I was um I was sharing my enthusiasm my uh, at winning the Pulitzer prize. How does that feel, man? That's got to be incredible. It feels great, feels very busy, but it's nice, you know, if I hadn't wanted, I might not get the chance to meet you right, So bad. My wife has been a long time fan of your work and introduced me to some time ago and so we've been working on this for a while. Um and the timing of the Pulitzer couldn't be better for us for the show, but just what an absolute honor and uh, one of the things that I'd like to retrace is a little bit about your process. Another thing I'd like to retraces the work that it takes to be recognized to the degree that you've been recognized, but more importantly for anyone who is not familiar with your work, you're a poet, but I'd like to go way back in the way back machine here and paint us a little bit of a picture around your childhood early, um, affecting creativity. Um, what, what helped contribute uh, to the person you are today? Let's go back for a little bit for people who are new to your work. There are a few things that helped contribute. One probably is the Black Church. I had a very interesting, My parents are very interesting couple. Uh, they fought every saturday night, but they didn't miss church on sunday morning. We all play cards every friday night. So I hope that gives people some kind of a picture of what it was like growing up in my house. And because we were at church, excuse me, because we were at church on every sunday. I fell in love with the music. I fell in love with the excitement And I fell in love with the sound of words. You know, the Black Church is a place where obviously very young people, people from the point that they can first speak to the age of 17 or 18 when they, you know, when they're grown, you have the responsibility of every once in a while speaking at the church. There seems always a program, a pageant or a play in which you have to perform um every month or sometimes every two or three weeks. And, you know, even a little kid might say something like happy easter and everybody in the church would fall out screaming, you know? Uh so, so, and I love that I learned that words had um had power and that they could do something to our emotions uh and right along with hearing uh and performing. Um, seeing young people perform of things like reputations of the 23rd psalms. You'd also see people reading and performing in the church. Um, poems like Mother to Son or the negro speaks of the negro speaks of rivers by Langston Hughes or ego tripping by Nikki Giovanni or phenomenal woman are still I rise by my angelou. So I was never far away from poems. They were always a part of my life. And the bible as a source of poetry was introduced to me very early. Seeing my pastor read scriptures and then explain them to us in such a excited and exciting way was very important to me. And I think it has a lot to do with with why I fell in love with words and why I fell in love with poetry. Also had a mother who was, um, she was just, she was an improvisational genius. She couldn't afford child care. So she take me and my sister to the library. And at the time, you know, now when you go in the library, the first two floors are all computers. But at the time there was nothing in the library of books. So my sister and I had no choice but to become readers. My sister was actually way better at using the library than I was. She was, she would watch movies and listen to records. You know, I was like, wow, where do you find that? Um, but I was I had just a really short attention span, which is the best thing that ever happened to me because I think that's the reason why I fell in love with poetry. I would uh I would go through the stacks and when I would come across a book of poetry, I would try it out and I didn't have this idea that I had to know what was going on every line. I only had to feel what was happening much in the same way. We experienced songs the first time we hear them, we don't always know the lyrics, but we know were turned on. So it got to a point where the librarian, I'll never forget her name, Laura Mckinney, she would have a stack of poetry books waiting for me. You know, they were whether they knew it or not, they were our babysitters. And the librarians would have poetry books waiting for me and I would read them cover to cover thinking I was somehow cheating because there was less text on the page and there was a book of prose. I was like, I can't do this. And I had no idea, you know? And it was wonderful because um, Laura Mckinney and the other libraries, They didn't, they didn't, they were not poetry readers. They knew I liked poetry as a very little kid and I'm talking about 6789 10 years old. They knew I liked poetry. So they were giving me the best things that I was reading, the poets that they had heard of, which means I was reading what was completely inappropriate for an eight year old to be reading. So it was wonderful. A wonderful situation. I had their, you know, I was learning about sex. I was learning about politics and war. I was learning about relationships between men and women between men and men and while women. Uh, so I was getting, I was getting A lot before. By the time I was 10 I had read a lot of Sylvia, plath, robert law, uh, Exton, um, Whitman Dickinson. Uh, language 10, uh, 10 years old because I would just read it like it was a marathon man. And I would feel the language. I was much more interested in the feeling and the sound. The fact that I could read words on a page and it was as if they were coming off the patient, I could hear them. That's what poetry always seemed. That seemed to me the definition at the time if you could read something and no one speaking and yet when you read it, you hear the words that I thought that was so amazing and I wanted that I wanted to do that. I wanted to make that feeling. I was happy I was having, I wanted to make that feeling happen to other people. So I think that's how things really got started for me. Although, you know, I wouldn't give my depressed nine year old anne anne sexton poem. You know, she has poems with titles like Wanting to Die, which I think I know by heart. Anyway. So, uh, but at the time it was it was just it was just what I needed. And I think it saved me in ways that I didn't know it was saving me. Can you talk about being depressed as a nine year old? How did you know that? Is that something you knew at the time or is this on reflection? You now come into these things, You mentioned your parents fighting on saturday night. Was did that contribute to uh, your art in some way or can you help us understand? Help us understand that a little bit. Well, when I was nine I knew I wanted out and even before then a new that I was sort of on this lease. Right. I was sort of, I mean from the time I was six or seven, I had this idea that I was counting down time to get out and if I could just hold on, I wouldn't die or get killed. I kept thinking if I stayed in my parents house, something awful was bound to happen to me or I was bound to do something awful to myself. So that's the best way I can explain that feeling. I just needed to get out. I was just seeing way too much many and it's not special. Maybe I'm just sensitive many kids see way too much, but I think it affected me more deeply because I'm a person of the word, I'm a person of words. So I always, I was always writing, fell in love with poems and I was always in a corner somewhere with a notebook, writing things down, which was my own way of having a private life. So would you, would you characterize yourself as a super feeler? Like you talked about a lot of kids see too much and for some they bounce off it and we all create these coping mechanisms that we all have childhood trauma in some way, shape or form. Um But do you think that you know, I consider my wife for example is she's so hyper sensitive about so many things like what she eats and the feelings and the energy of different people. And would you, would you put yourself in that camp or I don't want to put words in your mouth, I'm just trying to understand, you know, the things that contributed to your your ability to use words to express just incredibly detailed and powerful emotions and experiences. Yeah. I think my real problem is a kid growing up and maybe, you know, only only recently, I mean really a problem I'm only solving now is that when people say things, I believe them. So I was a kid and people would say things. I thought they meant it. Do you know what I mean? You know when my dad said, um, you know, this is the way things are gonna be and when you move out, you can do it whatever way you want to. I thought that was true. I didn't realize that after I moved out, he was still gonna be trying to run my life. So, uh, so, and, and you know, preachers very being around very good people. I believed um that the height of personhood was the ability to fall in love, to be in love, to love something to express passion. And I also understood at a very young age that you don't get to express passion. You don't get to fall in love unless you can become vulnerable, vulnerable. You don't get to experience intimacy without first having vulnerability. Um so I was always seeking intimacy uh still am always seeking intimacy, which means I was always becoming vulnerable. And I think for most young people that's not an option because they're not paying attention in the same way that I was like, uh probably maybe paying attention to earlier for too long. Yeah, so most of the people who listen and watch the show are, there's an element of seeking and I feel like that has been a theme of the show to, you know, the guests yourself, hundreds of others, they people I like to have on the show, people who have found something and for so many who are listening and watching, whether that's a better version of themselves or a new career, different partner or something. And this idea of becoming a poet, for example, incredibly romantic. Um, but as you it's steeped in words and emotions and experiences the ability to express oneself. That's those are all very powerful and useful their utilities in life as well. So I'm wondering did the 789 10 year old version of yourself, despite knowing that you loved words? Was there uh an awareness that like poet didn't really seem like an option to me when I was 10, either based on my upbringing, my experience, um, probably a confounding set of factors, but there's so many people who are listening and watching right now who would have been afraid to declare themselves a poet because its lofty and you know, it's aspirational and whether their goal would be to become a poet, just the concept of being able to become whatever it is we want in this world. And so I'm wondering if you can help shape this, the notion of becoming a poet of starting you say words matter. And did you start to call yourself a poet or did other people call you a poet? And how did you sort of, you know, connect that identity piece of you? I just help me understand Identity poet as identity for you. Yeah, well I'll say first that I knew I wanted to be a poet when I was in the third grade and I was certain of it 100% sure when I was in 5th grade, um I didn't really know what that meant. I only knew that Rita Dove was a poet. Do you know? Like the only living poet I understood existed was Rita Dove, because there were life sized posters of her in my elementary school after she won the Pulitzer prize. You know, So uh and that seemed to me the best thing that could possibly happen to a person. You get a life sized posters of yourself in an elementary school. I was like, oh sure why not? You know um what's wonderful about my mom and dad and and also strange about them is that they were completely encouraging of that when I was and 10 and 11, 12 years old. It's just that I kept saying it and they were confused as to why I thought that you know, I believe them when they would encourage me that I could write, I believe them. And so when they began to try to take it back in my late teens in my early twenties, by that time I was like you must be lying this time because you couldn't have been lying last time because I can write, do you know? Um So and that's uh so I think part of the identity was just built up by the encouragement of the few people that were around me, my parents, my teachers who, you know, said I had a little bit of talent at writing and then, you know, that's all that really took from me. As I said before and people say stuff, I believe them. People said I could write, okay, I didn't know the doubt people until until later in my life. And then um I think I sort of gained, secondly, I put on uh that feeling that people try to give you that that doing an art is impossible, that it's impossible to be a dancer or an actor or a poet and yet you turn on your tv and all you see is dancers and actors. Do you understand that? This is part of the I think the modern conundrum as we see first of all it's very you can't be what you can't see. And then the things that we do see, you know the people that are most celebrated in our culture for better or worse, They didn't go to this school, get these grades, get the right job, get worked for 40 years and get the gold watch and retire. They took radical action on things that were not the traditional paths. And so there's this there's this lack of alignment between are the things that we see and are you know what we could do so cast as our dreams and the stuff that our parents tell us, okay you got to go do these things and there's this huge gap and so that's really, I mean you just hit it right on the head like that's what I'm exploring that gap for you and the fact that you had encouragement to use your words and to write as a young person, was there a time when that shifted gears? Like, okay, good job writing times over now you want to go get a J O B and you need to, you know, was there was that you've kind of danced around it a little bit. You said later in life, your parents are telling you couldn't write? So was this okay now it's time to kids stuff. So over time to get back to business now and go get a J. O B or was that like, it is true that I came probably at some point while I was in college, I had this idea that, I mean, it hadn't changed that I wanted to be a poet. I always wanted to be a poet. But I had this idea suddenly, not so suddenly it gets nailed into you because this is how people treat artists. But I had this idea that I had to be old in order to do it. Like I needed a beard and it needed to be white. Do you understand what I'm saying to do? So I needed a white, but I needed to be a white man with a white beard who had already had 19 jobs. And that would allow me that would mean that I had paid the dues necessary to become a poet. But that changed for me, I think For a few reasons. One is that um I was still an English major and I was still writing. My first job was writing speeches for that was a speechwriter for the mayor of New Orleans. So I was still writing, um, I just needed to take the leap and and really devote myself to my art 100%. And once I was willing to do that and I began doing that pretty soon after I finished undergrad, once I began to take the leap, just to completely say, oh, I could lose everything. So let me tell you how I began to understand that that was an okay thing to say. The only reason I began to understand that was the located thing to say is because everybody I ever admired said that, you know, ultimately that's all Jesus said, do you know what I'm saying, martin Luther king Jr said, do you understand what I mean? Everybody who had ever been given to me as a person to emulate was the person who was, it seemed to me insane. Do you follow, like if you look at the risks that these people, if you think about the writers we love most and you look at their lives and you look at the risks that they took to get there writing done. And I was like, I mean, even as a very young person in my early 20's, I realized, wait, you have to lose your mind. Do you know what I mean? Really? I don't feel like you have to use your mind, but you do have to be in a position where people around you might think you have and that's going to be their business. You have to let that be their business. So I think for me it just had to do with understanding that everyone who had ever done anything that I thought admirable. Um, every one of those people had lived lives where they needed to take the leap. They needed to do the unconventional, unexpected, risky and dangerous thing to be who they are. And uh and that's what that's what I became willing to do. I remember um walked into my boss's office. Her name was Rhonda and I had enrolled in these classes at the University of New Orleans because I wanted to start you know poetry classes to get an M. F. A. Because I was going to be a poet. And uh I said I'm taking this class but the only time is offered is at 9 30. So I have to quit my job. And I didn't have a plan. Like I found out I literally had only found before walking in her office. I found out the class was only offered at 9:30 you know like like five minutes before and she came up with a way for me to go to that class and then take the hour later at work. But if I hadn't asked, that wouldn't have happened. If I hadn't been ready to lose my job and be hungry. That wouldn't have happened. So I just had to take the leap. So those are the kinds of things that I mean when I say take the leap, when I say take the risk and that's that's what I'm always telling my students. My students. One thing that is 100% true about my students is that they are completely vulnerable to and in love with poems. They read these poems, they'll bring me poems. They said dr Brown, I love this poem, oh my God. And they're like crying with tears in their eyes and I say to them, you know, if that's what you want then you have to be able to make those kinds of moves and poems. You have to be able to take those kinds of risks and poems. So it happens early on in my classes, the students are trying to stay safe. You're not gonna, she loved to do stay as safe, you know? And that's the case for anybody. It's not just the artist, You know? If you, I mean, I don't know if anybody's ever, I'm the only person probably who obsesses over serena Williams stretch routine or, or watching her practice. Like I don't even like to watch her play, you know? Right now, I photographed serena couple times. It's amazing. I'm upset by like, what goes into the day she has to play like what comes before that day, You know? And that's what I'm, that's what I'm always telling my students. Uh it's one thing to admire people. It's one thing to have a dream of becoming someone. But it's another thing to take that identity seriously. And if you want to be a poet, what does that look like? Well, it might look like you're reading poems every day, It might look like you're trying to write one every day. That doesn't mean that you end up with a poem every day. That means you put forth the effort. It is actually better to fail because if you're failing, that means you're trying hard, that means you're trying above yourself. That means you have some ambition. So, yeah, I definitely I want to put a pin in the students because so much of the research that I did on you, your ted talk, for example, you're always referencing the experiences of your students, and that's kind of the way that I'm trying to look at that our conversation today is if we are students of you and your work and your life and your experience, um, it's just I find it interesting that you do so much celebrating of that. Is that because you found that path for yourself, you feel like it's a path or why is it that you're always taking whether it's inspiration or examples or you just you speak so much and so fondly of, you know, your role as a teacher, but more specifically the opportunity for students. Well, I mean, it's probably because I'm sort of a new agey weirdo. Honestly, I mean, my students, my students could have gone to any college and they could have had any other creative writing teacher, but they came to Emory and they're my students. And so I think that means that they are mine and I am, there's for the rest of their lives. Uh, and I love them. I love them because they're in the class, not because of anything. You know, you love people because they're yours. You don't love him because of what they do. Or don't do you know, you mentioned your wife earlier. You know, there are things that could happen to your wife that would put her in a position where she is, not the same person she is now, but because she's your wife, because she is who she is to you. You will always love her. Do you understand what I'm saying? That's how I feel about my students. I love my students. My students show up in my class and I think, okay, here we go. You came here for a reason. Um, let's do it. Uh, and they walk with me as I'm writing my poems and I make them aware of that. You know, I don't just teach them. They teach me, my students put me in a position where I have to look for more than what I really want to read in order to show them what might influence them. Uh there are things that they want to do in their poems that require me to look up poems that I may not have seen before. So I can give them examples of how that's been done in the past. Um, I see them doing things and I I see coming out of my mouth telling them you can't do that in a poem and before I can get it out of my mouth, I'm thinking, or can you? And then as soon as I think, or can you, I have to go prove it in my own poem. So, my students are walking with me, uh, not to mention the fact, you know, uh, the way this, uh, the way the higher educational system works in the United States, you know, my students right now, the oldest one of them is probably 22 years old, but that oldest student will probably still be asking me for letters of recommendation When, when he or she or there are 42 years old. You know what I mean? So, so I'm in a position where I'm walking with them for the rest of my life and, there's in their mind. it's very inspirational. Um, also, one thing that comes to mind is the opportunity, you know, you referenced uh earlier. Um, Rita Dove is a huge inspiration to you. But you also mentioned a lot of white males and the concept of you needed a white beard in order to be established enough and fill in the blank adjective enough to be considered seriously a poet. And if you combine those ideas with this idea that I feel strongly about, which is, it's very hard to be what you can't see. Um how did those two ideas reconcile the fact that redid of for example, or Maya Angelou were huge inspirations to you. But you know the cannon was largely white male old. You know Melville, you cited a bunch of names. How did you reconcile those or did you at all? Yeah, I didn't understand completely. I mean the wonder, I mean, I just I was ignorant. Do you know what I mean? You know there is there is uh, maybe there was more than there is now a such thing as black music, right? But you know, the queen of soul is Aretha franklin. So um if Aretha franklin is the queen of soul, my access to Aretha franklin means that that's all I know about music. That's what music is. That's what it should sound like. You know. And when you watch Aretha Franklin's amazing grace that when you hear that record or when you watch the documentary, the live taping of of her recording that record. Yeah. There are a lot of black people in that church shouting this white people in that church too. So I did understand that racism. My dad made sure of that. My mom made sure that we understood me and my sister. We understood that racism existed and yet we understood that our job was to be all of whom we could possibly be. You know and I believed that. So I think while I understood that the Cannon looked a certain way, I didn't have an understanding of there being a Cannon until I was much older. So when I was younger, the poet who were introduced to me when I went to school when I went to church whenever I was around poetry, there were, yes, a lot of white poets, but there were also black poets, you know, there was Claude McKay, there was Countee Cullen, there was lengthened Hughes. Uh so there were, it seemed to me a lot of black poets. And it wasn't until, I mean really until I was a grown man that I understood that even those poets had been marginalized, right? That even those poet had been, get poets had been ghetto ized right? But I didn't know that. I mean, I just thought, oh wow, these are some of the greatest poets that ever lived. Um you know If We Must Die is a poem that people know without even knowing Claude McKay's name. Do you know what I'm saying? So that's the kind of thing. I think that's the kind of thing. I think helped me overcome those, those kinds of things as it relates to as it relates to racism or as it relates to not having a vision of oneself. I did have that vision. It's just that that vision began to change. The more I went to school, the more I went to school, the more I was, I realized, oh I'll never forget when I was in a PhD program and I would go to my professors homes and I would go to my classmates homes and for various gathering, social gatherings, study group, whatever. And I would look at their shelves and it became sort of uh game that I was playing. I would look at the shelves and they wouldn't have any black people on their shelves. I was, I was like wow. And I would go house after house after house, I was like oh this is the way it really is. You know I got all these white people on my shelves and yeah no wonder y'all treat me like this, you don't think you have to see me anymore after today, do you know what I'm saying? So then it became my job to prove them wrong, right? Uh People are subliminally subliminally telling you they're never going to see you again, you have to show them that they're wrong, do you know what I'm saying? So that really it became a goal of mine to show them that I could write and that I could end up on the shelves if not on their shelves on their kids shelves. That this idea of um requiring that they see you by being so good at your craft or by showing up over and over again. Has that been fuel for your career or was that a is that a secondary tertiary um reason for deciding to commit as you as you did early on? I think proving something to people who doubt you can be very useful, I have to admit. And yet it cannot be the focus, it can't be primary. The reason it can't be primary is if you really want to succeed at a thing, you have to love it, you can't succeed at a thing out of spite. Uh Because the truth is that if you're doing something out of spite, then you're doing it out of fear. It's not based in love, it's based in fear and anything you put fear into is going to give you fear back. So this world that I have created and built for myself is a world that I have created. Because I love poetry. I believe in it. It makes me cry, it makes me want to make love. Do you know what I'm saying? Um It excites me uh first I have to believe in it and it changes my mind. I think, you know, I have to a lot of people don't know this about what poets are doing, but maybe and maybe I'm wrong about what other poets are doing. But I know when I'm writing a poem, I'm trying to figure out what I think and I know I'm really working when I say something in a poem I didn't expect to say. And it makes me wonder if that's what I think thought all along. Is that what I think that's what I'm saying when I'm writing poems and that's the reckoning that I have come to as a human being. I say something I didn't expect to say it. I wonder about it. And then I say, well if that's what I think maybe I should start acting like it. Maybe my life should look like. It may be my words when I'm having conversations should reflect that. That's actually what I think. So that's the kind of uh that's the kind of work I'm interested in doing in my poems and that's what comes first for me. What comes first for me isn't despite all those spike don't always hurt. It ain't the worst thing. But what comes first for me has to be love and I just love doing it. I love listening to poems and I love setting those challenges for myself, not for other people that I can write a poem that does this or I can try a poem that does that that's that's all Jericho Brown. Speaking of Jericho Brown and words that used words like vulnerable, authentic. Or maybe I used authentic. Used vulnerable um seeking wanting to be inspired and feel love and connection and passion. If I kind of made a word cloud, I want to read a few words that some other people have said about you that paint a similar picture. And I'm wondering if you can respond as if you think these people are accurate or what color you would add to their um their response to your work. Terrance Hayes wrote, this is the poetry of blood ship, the meaning of family, of love of sexuality, the residents of pain and the possibilities of redemption, Craig morgan. Uh taker said in an NPR interview, what's most remarkable in these poems in these poems is that while they never stopped speaking through gritted teeth, never quite make the choice between hope and fear. They are always beautiful, full of music. That is a cross between the sinuous sentences of carl phillips, the forceful descriptions of Mark Doty and hip rhythms of terrance Hayes. They show Brown to be a part of a new guard of black and gay writers unwilling in their writing to confine their identities. These poems offer an unlikely kind of hope. Brown's ambivalence is evidence of a fragile belief in the possibility of change of the will that makes change possible. And, lastly, as Claudia Rankine simply puts Jericho Brown's poems offered the readers a window into his devastating genius now to have those writers refer to you and your work like that. How does how does that make you feel? Are they accurate? Do you does that bring you joy or did they get it wrong? Um, I was hoping to get your response to some of those words. Um it's really hard to talk about without getting emotional quite honestly because I admire those writers in their and their work so much. So when they have nice things to say about my work. Um, and it just, it's um, the value of being recognized by people that you love the most is that you admire the most or people whose work really makes you feel. Um, I don't you can't I can't put a price on that. So it's um, it's almost difficult. It's almost difficult for me to talk about. So I'm glad obviously, uh, that they can recognize what I'm trying to do in the work and that they recognize things sometimes that I don't even know that I'm trying to do. Um uh I mean maybe that's the most second, maybe that's the most I can say about that I could. Yeah, I think that's it. Thank you for sharing Those are powerful words to read about anybody's work and I can't imagine hearing that about your own work. That's uh devastating genius. Yeah, that's crazy man. She's great. Um mm is poetry having? It's a new day in the Sun right now yourself, Winning the Pulitzer Amanda Gorman. Like what's going on with poetry right now? Is it has this been a build up or has it always been there? And pop culture is just now paying closer attention. Is it is a resurgence. Like what's, what's happening with poetry right now? It seems, I mean, again, it's always been a mainstay. It's a classic. It's like underpins modern culture in so many ways, goes way, way, way back thousands of years and yet here we are. And I can't help but feel this groundswell. And I'm wondering clearly you have been a force in this. I don't know if it's appropriate to call it a movement. I'm just wondering if you can help me or maybe your listeners understand like what, what's happening right now with poetry? Why is it everywhere? Or has it been everywhere now? We're just getting, you know, it's just coming back around. Well, poetry is a spiritual thing. And when, um, when our spirits, for whatever reason, when, you know, the spirit is always strong, but when we feel as if the spirit is weak, we seek it out. We seek poetry out at our hardest times. Um, and sometimes we take it for granted, right at our, at our easiest times. Uh, and I think the poetry, um, poets have been the heroes of the coronavirus pandemic. Um, you know, obviously first responders have been the heroes of the coronavirus coronavirus pandemic, all of the medical people who work in health care. Uh, and yet I've worked so much. I've been called on to do all kinds of things that I think I otherwise would have never been called to do. And I'm really grateful to be a poet right now. I'm grateful to be somebody who can show people the value of the thing that they've been missing. People didn't know that they were missing poetry. They didn't know how much they needed in their lives. They didn't know um, what it could do for them. The thing about poetry is it works the same way your microwave works. It works the same way your car works. But you don't know what it's doing. You know, your car takes you from one place to another. You know, your microwave heats up your food. You read a poem, you have a bunch of feelings, but you don't know what that's doing for your soul or your your mental capacity. Um, and yet it does its work. And I think people realized uh, this pandemic that they needed a spiritual source to do work on their lives. Um, and I think poetry allows uh, folk that that that work there. It allows that work that they need. So, I think this is a really great moment for poetry because the poets get to be who they are in public. You know, we'll be doing this. You know, there will come a time where nobody is paying attention again, right where nobody is paying attention in this very broad way that they're suddenly paying attention about the environment or about racial justice. But the poets will still be writing about these things. The poets will still be making the work necessary such that whether we are alive or not, the work is here. When you need it. When you realize there's a need for racial justice. When you realize there's a need for environment, environmental justice. When you begin to understand that again, when you realize that we can all fall prey to the deaths and the grief that come along with a pandemic when you realize that the poems will still be here and yes, they'll they'll uh they will become popular yet again because we need poetry in our lives. Let me tell you what poems are. Poems are two men and women and as as trees are to God. Um so we walk around all day every day. Trees we sort of I mean I don't I mean I love trees. You know I live in Atlanta. It's very green city. I see trees all the time. Sometimes. You know, I can drive by a bunch of trees and I might not notice any of them. Do you understand what I mean? Looking out right now, I'm looking at my backyard, a lot of trees. Do you know what I'm saying? I can name a few of them for you. You know? But here's what I know to be true. I will take those trees for granted. There are many times I do not notice them. Don't care that they're there. My need for those trees is not my need for oxygen. My need for those trees has to do with the fact that if all those trees were gone, I would miss them. Like if all the trees in your life weren't there, you would miss them. You would miss them like crazy. You would be concerned. You would be worried. You would you would write to your congressman trying to figure out how do we get the trees back? That's what homes do. People don't know, They need poetry. They don't understand what poems have done in their lives. But if there were no poems that would suddenly understand, you know, and that's how that's what poems mean. Uh, that's what poems mean. When I'm on airplanes, people will ask me, um, what I do for a living, which by the way, I think you've got to be a fascinating passenger to sit next to my goodness. No, I try to sleep. Really? Um, and I'll tell them I'm a poet and then they'll say, this happens people, What do you do? I'm a poet. I hate poetry. People will tell me, I hate poetry. I just told you this is all I care about. You tell me, uh, people tell me I hate poetry. And what I've learned to do over the years is to say to them right after they say I hate poetry. I say to them, really, you don't like any poem. There's not one poem you love. And for every person that's ever said, I hate poetry. They then tell me a poem they love. And most of them recited. They recite a robert Frost poem or e e cummings poem or Langston Hughes poem or Emily Dickinson poem to me. A Sylvia plath poem. They recite that poem to which I say, oh, it doesn't seem to me like you hate poetry Since this one has sustained you the last 50 years of your life. Do you follow what I'm saying? Like if you read the tree, it's like a tree, right? I get it home. You've been walking around letting this one poem do all this work on you your entire life and you think you hate poetry? Imagine if you had actually read three poems, it's incredible that there's someone who's going to sit next to on a plane and say that I hate poetry. I mean this is this is this is part of the why I asked the question about poetry's place in pop culture because it seems like it's everywhere. It seems like so many folks. I mean we've had say Cory Booker on the show and Corey could just rip off poem poem, poem poem and it seems to come from he's like an old soul. And so it seems like it comes from a different time. And yet you look around you think about hip hop music, you think about the power of words in the media and it seems to be obvious why poetry would be so powerful. And I think it's an interesting point you make that it's because it's it does underpin so much. So it's rooted in our past or something. I think there's just such a strong connection to it um related to a question to a thing we were topic we're exploring earlier. You know, when you're sitting next to someone on a plane, made me think of this. And you say I'm a poet, like right now there's someone listening to this and whether or not they want to be a poet is irrelevant just for the moment, but they want to do something that's crazy. They want to do something or be or become someone that they don't have, they haven't shared with other people whether that's uh something like gender identity or whether it's a career think of the whole gamut. I'm wondering if you have, you know, deciding articulating you were going to be a poet probably had some ramifications. And I'm wondering if you could give advice Because I'm telling you that nine out of every 10 people who are listening, there's something that they want to do or be or become and then they're not they're not pursuing that because it sounds crazy or audacious or scary or vulnerable. So many of these words that you've you've used. I'm wondering if you can give some advice. Yeah. The best advice that I can give is to figure out what that would look like. You don't have to do it. You just have to figure out what it would look like. What would a day look like if you were living your dream? Uh what would a week look like? What would a month look like? What would a year look like? What would be your practices? What would you do when you first got up? What would you do before bed at night? What would your life look like if you were living the dream? If you were living exactly the way you wanted to live? So there are things in your life that you can have now. Once you make that list of what the life would look like, you'll find that there are things in your life that you can't have now and you should capitalize on those things. Um, It takes discipline to do anything. A certain kind of consistency and constancy. Uh, But you do have five minutes. Um, So right for five minutes every day. If you can write for five minutes every day and be grateful for those five minutes, you'll find 10. You can do that for a few days and be grateful for those 10. You will soon figure a way to find a half hour um, and if you can find a half hour every day you are on your way, do you understand what I'm saying? So it really just has to do with figuring out everything you want and then looking to see what you have. Um, this has been, you know, I hate to say this, I just had this um, conversation with somebody else, but um, it's easier for me to talk about these things when I talk about material possessions because sometimes people understand that a little bit better than a sort of floating spiritual concept. So let's say you want a certain kind of car, let's let's say you want a genesis G 90 but you have, what do you have? I don't know, you have a nissan versa. If you don't want the nissan versa anymore, how do you get rid of your nissan versa and get into your genesis G 90? You start treating your nissan versa as if it is a genesis G 90 wash it because when you have the genesis genesis G you're under the impression that you're suddenly going to be a person who washes your car, You don't wash your car now. Why do you think you're going to watch it because you've got a new one? Do you see what I mean? So I just think, you know, it's about making habits that have to do with what you want your life to look like, even if your life doesn't completely look that way right now, how important is the rule of people, the role of people in that picture that you're painting for yourself? How has that played an impact or played a role in in you being able to live your dream as a poet? Was it about surrounding yourself with poems and poetry and people that were we're impetus for your work? What role have people played in shaping who you are? If you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with and if you believe in that or not, I was wondering if you could share a little insight. Their community is of utmost importance is really important to go be where the poets are. What I figured out about being a poet is that I wouldn't be one if I couldn't be around them. I needed to know where the living poets were and what they were doing and how I could get together together with them. Uh, not just for work, but just socially, you know, being around the poet helps you become a poet. Being around the people who are doing the kind of things that you want to do helps you become more of what you want to do. That's true because those people will identify your desires in themselves and therefore encourage you because they will see that through encouraging you. They are also encouraging themselves and they will be expecting your encouragement. Um The most important thing, community is very important, but even more important is that you do not do the opposite of community. I find that a lot of people worry about what people are going to think about their poems and then they take those poems to the people who they know will discourage them. People are always asking me about how I write about my mom and dad as if I would ever take my mom and dad to work. Nobody is taking their mom and dad to work for any other profession. People like. What did your mom say when she saw this poem? I don't know did she see it? I don't know. What, what do I look like? Um you know if I know that my dad wants me to be a lawyer, why am I showing him my palms if there are things and this is I mean we we do this all the time. We take the things we love to. The people who we know will discourage the things we love. Why take them to people who are you know, are going to encourage them. You take them to people who are going to tell you this is really bad. You can do better. So let's do more of that thing. Don't take it to people who are going to say this is really bad. Don't do it anymore. You know who those people are? Why are you in their face? Stay away from them. You know sometimes you got to be around you know funerals and stuff you know thanksgiving. Do you know what I'm saying? Like I get it. Um But do surround yourself with encouraging people, do not surround yourself with discouraging people and when you have to be around discouraging people make sure there's a timer on that situation you know if you got for some reason you have to. So for me I figured out um me and my parents were really good two nights and then I need to go you know that third night those first two nights they miss me, I missed them that third night. They have figured out something that's wrong with my life and they want to spend that next day telling me all about it. I know that now so I'm never there the third night. Yeah. Do you understand? And you know who these people are? Don't I mean we can pretend, oh I don't, you know, you know exactly who these people are. Um These are people, even people you work with her that you have to work with. You send them the email, hey, I'll be in your office. But I can only be in there for a half hour because you know, at 31 minutes that person starts doing the thing that you hate and don't go over the half hour. Why do we, why do we trot things out to people if we've got big hairy audacious goals? We've got crazy dreams. What part of us drags those dreams to the people that we know will say no. The part of us that doesn't want to take the risks. The part of us that doesn't want to take the leap. We're looking for some excuse to get out of doing what we really want to do. We don't want to do the work to do what we really want to do because we know it takes a lot of work. It's, I mean, we do that to ourselves. Those people, people are not stopping you. You are going to people in order to be stopped. That's going to be repeated often after this show. Um, you've written about some, especially in the tradition, about some very, very powerful topics about rape, about murder of unarmed people, black and brown people. Um, so many topics that interrupt the complacency of day to day. And do you feel compelled to write those right about those topics or how do these topics present themselves to you? I don't know if compelled is, the word may be compelled is the best word because I would definitely rather not write about them. Right. Uh, under these, this weird impression that I sit down trying to go after the police are trying to go after environmental injustice or go after my parents or my family or go after, um, the person who raped me. I would rather never think about him. Uh, you know what I mean? I'm actually not interested in writing about any of those things or reading about any of those things to be honest with you. What I do is I sit down with language only and as I'm writing, I figure out what I what I'm saying. So, uh, you know, I'll try to explain this as best I can without a black. I often need a white board and some dry erase markers, but I'll try, I'll try to, I've got one right here. If I wish I could be described, I wish I could be described next time I write a live because it sounds good and I think I wrote it so it must be good. You know, I have that much audacity. Like, oh, I wrote that. It must be good. And then I follow that line with a, with a line that riffs off of the sound of the first line. I followed that line with the sound that riffs off of the sound of that line. I keep making those lines. People don't know that when I get to the end of the page or when I'm tired of doing that and when I feel like I'm spent or when I feel like I've said something in doing that, that seems a surprise to me. Um, by the time I'm done with that, I don't know what any of that sense. It doesn't make sense. It just sounds good. Do you know what I mean? So then I have to go back and ask that mess because it's a mess. It doesn't make sense. It just sounds good. They're just images, their their words, their rhymes, they sound good, but they don't make sense. I go back to that mess and I say who is your speaker? Who would say these things? I say where you're located, what is they're saying? Right here, is this a beach or a desert? I say, what is your location? I say, why are you so mad right here? What happens in this moment? What does that mean? I'm asking myself those questions. I don't need a reader to do that for me. Not at that stage. I ask myself those questions and then that that that mess of text changes to the first draft of a poem and by the time it changes to the first draft of a poem, I see from my subconscious mind, my unconscious mind that I've been writing about, the things that I'm really concerned about, the things I'd rather not write about. Um when I was writing the tradition, I really just wanted to write pastoral book that was about my front and back yard because I was so excited about having a front and back yard. I was excited about working in the yard. Um, I was upset about my allergies. Do you know what I'm saying? And uh, it's impossible. People think people think that you really can write this poem about working in your yard without also being concerned about the lifespan of our trees on this planet. People think that you can work in your yard without. When I first moved in this house, one of my neighbors, um, you know, the first time I lived in a neighborhood where people bring you stuff when you first move in. One of my neighbors welcome wagon. Yes. Very, I thought it was very strong. I mean it's really nice, but I just was like, wow, it's 1954. And um, one of my neighbors, she walked up to the door and rang my doorbell while I was right in front of her, working in the yard, like working in the flower bed in front of the steps and she turns around, it's hot outside. She's fanning herself and I say hi, excuse me. And she says, oh, hey, I'm just, I'm just looking for the man or the woman of the house. She didn't imagine that could be me, wow. So what happens to my poem that day about working in my flowerbeds? Do you know what I'm saying? I got to tell the truth. It's not just the flowers. Do you follow what I mean? There's this other thing going on where in spite of my heritage, you know, I know how to work on a flower bed because my dad taught me in spite of my heritage, in spite of generation after generation of black people who worked the land, in spite of the fact that both my grandparents, on both sides of my family, my grandparents were sharecroppers, this person, and many people like her cannot imagine me working on a yard for its beauty because I own it and I wanted to be beautiful, not because I need to check, you know, do you understand what I'm saying? And that is the kind of thing that ends up in a poem, because that's a little deeper two. That's where you end up. We'll keep pulling on this thread. Because what we're into now is your creative process, right? I mean, you're writing every day, like you talk about, that's what that day's poem is. So is journaling is writing every day, and this is going to apply to every single listener, whether they want to get better at the guitar, build a startup, uh you know, be a magician, that doesn't matter what their craft is. What's your creative process? Obviously, you talked at different times in this conversation about bringing all these things into into view, if you will, that happened. But is this a daily process for you? You sit down that morning, Is that evening? Is that whenever inspiration strikes? Or you set the timer and you go to work? What's dr browns um prescription for creativity? I just think it's a good idea to do something every day. So, every day I try to write something and even if that's a sentence, I can go to bed at night knowing that I wrote. Uh and if you write something every day, you will have many days where you can't stop. But if you don't write something every day, you will have most days where you're uh a few days that you do right where you're really just staring at the computer screen, you also have to remember that writing is not always making something new. Writing has to do with using everything you've ever written and working on it until it's better. So because I've been doing this for a little while, there's always something that I can go back to that has failed in the past. What I tell my students is if you write 10 failed poems, you're in a better position than somebody who hasn't written any poems. If you've written 10 failed poems, that means you have at least 10 good lines because you're not so awful that you wrote a whole poem without one good line in it. So if you're right, if you have 10 good lines, that's really all you need. You take them out of those poems that have failed you put those 10 good lines on a separate Microsoft word document, you move them around until they start talking to each other and these lines that at first seemed to have nothing to do with each other will begin to. So that's the kind of thing that I'm doing when I'm writing and it's better for me to try something everyday. Um, sometimes I'm at it for a few hours uh, when things are really going uh, you know, a disciplined and and regular fat and habitual regular fashion. I probably right for two hours a day or work, I should say for two hours a day in the morning. Is that evening? Is it is it any time? Well, um, I'm fascinated by the routines. Well, here's, here's what's ideal. Here's what happens when things are perfect, when things are perfect. I wake up in the morning, I go downstairs and I do 100 burpees, I come upstairs out of breath and I eat something after I eat, I sit down and I started writing for about two hours. The way I know it's been two hours isn't because I've set a clock. I know it's been two hours because I'm hungry and I'm usually hungry every two hours. So, so when I'm hungry, I get up to eat again and then whatever I was doing is done for the day and I did my two hours, but things change, you know, so sometimes it's not that way, sometimes you gotta nine o'clock or eight o'clock in the morning meeting and you don't want to wake up at six in the morning to do some burpees, but you still have to find you're two hours between meals to get some writing done. Um So that's what I'm doing more during the semester, especially now that I'm an administrator more during the semester. I'm looking for two hours. It used to be that I had these two hours kind of sitting around and now I'm like where there are two hours. Um So it depends, but I'm pretty committed to that. It's just that, you know, times of year, it's more ideal for me to be able to get up, get some exercise, you know, doing exercise. I think it's a good idea for writers because it gets you out of your head and you have no choice after you do some kind of exercise, you have no choice but to return to the thing new. Um, I almost want to say strenuous exercise, but I don't want anybody to hurt themselves. What I really mean though, is that if you're exercising in a way that doesn't allow you to have all the wheels turning. So, um, you know, if I'm doing a squatter, if I'm doing a bench press or if I'm doing, you know, this might not work for everybody, but this is this works for me, or if I'm doing burpees, I don't have time when there's like, wait on me and I'm about to break my neck. I do not have time to think about poetry or to think about, oh, did I pay that bill or to think about? Did I pick up the bananas? Or, you know, I actually can't think about anything except oh my God, I don't want to die with, you know what I'm saying to you have on your back, I don't want to fall over. I do not, do you know what I mean? I don't want to break my knees. Do you know what I'm saying? Like I am completely, it's completely impossible. So then when I do go to right, there's nothing there but the writing because I have banished everything else. You know what I mean? Um So that's what I like to do. It's a way of clearing my head. Um And then after that I'm done and I can, you know, meet with my students or grade papers or do whatever else that I have to do throughout the rest of the day, check emails. I mean it's it's taken me hours and hours to get through a day of emails at this point in my life. So well that's what happens when you win the Pulitzer, Tell me about what's the most difficult aspect of being a professional creator, translation is really hard. People don't understand what you do or they don't believe you, do you know what I mean? You know, it's very difficult for instance, to date um you know, in an age of text messages, you know, if, if I'm working, I mean if I'm really working when things are really good, you know, somebody's gonna text me at three and they're going to say what you're doing and I'm gonna say working, writing, reading, you know, just reading, I don't even have to be really doing my own thing, reading a book. You know, when people text you again at five and they say what you're doing and you say reading a book again and that's really what you're doing. They don't believe you because nobody believes that you can read for two hours. Do you understand what I'm saying? So that's I think translation is really the hardest part is part of the reason why community is so important. It's part of the reason why it's important to be around people who are doing the kind of thing you do. Because then you have conversations with folks, you can have a social life or some part of your social life that isn't completely encumbered with translation. It's very hard to explain to people what I do for a living. And people want to know more about that for me than they do from other people. And they don't understand what those other people do. Nobody. No, I don't know what an engineer does. I don't know what they do all day. I loved your practicality of thinking about how do you spend your time every day? Like what would you do if you were a poet or you were fill in the blank? The thing that you aspired to do? I think that's like, I've never her to put that way and I think it's incredibly powerful. Like what does preparation look like? One way to figure that out if you don't know for yourself, is to ask or to read or to check out? What does you know I mean, what does Lebron James life look like? Well, he's not playing a real game on the court. And what's interesting to me about that is it generally just looks like he's getting ready to play a game on. Yeah. You know what I mean? What does Beyonce's life look like? Especially the highest performers in the world. Right? That the, that the dedication and you talked about serena earlier, um, the alignment that they have with their life, the things that serve the things that they cared most deeply about. You talked about caring so much about poetry and about words and if the rest of your life gets to be shaped around the thing that you care about not, you know, to me, there's this momentum, there's an inertia of it's either reflecting on the last game or as you said, preparing for the next one. If you're Lebron, do you feel like that, that is how you think about your life with words you're preparing for your poem or reflecting on the last one? I think I'm always waiting for the next poem. I'm always missing it, wishing it was here, hoping it shows up. I'm always waiting for the next poem. And in the meantime I'm always reading stuff because the more I read poems by other people, the more I know the next Jericho Brown poem is on its way. Um, so I think, uh, in the meantime, you know what am I doing? I'm on the phone with my mom. Do you know what I'm saying? I'm like, I'm trying to, I'm trying to make love figuring out how to not be at that third day of the family function. Exactly, Exactly. I'm watching Golden Girls. Do you know what I'm saying? Like, I mean what I do, you can still have your time. Um, but you have to have some of that time that is dedicated to this thing you claim you love so much. Well, I want to say thank you. Uh, congratulations on the Pulitzer. The tradition. If you do not own a copy of it right now and you're listening or watching, cannot encourage it enough. Please pick up a copy and sort of as a culmination to our conversation today. And, and I'm eternally grateful. Um, but I would love if you would be open to reading a poem for us to, to put on display your devastating genius as has been said. Is there anything that comes to mind if I was to ask for you to perform something? Yeah, I'll read a poem called Crossing. Mhm. Which I think is very much for me, at least has very much been a poem of this particular moment. Crossing The water is one thing And one thing for miles. The water is one thing making this bridge built over the water. Another walk it early. Walk it back when the day goes dim, everyone rising just to find a way toward rest again. We work starts on one side of the day, like a planet's only son. Our eyes straight until the flame sinks the flame sinks. Thank God I'm different, I figured and counted I'm not crossing to cross back. I'm set on something vast. It reaches long as the sea. I'm more than a conqueror, bigger than bravery. I don't march. I'm the one who leaps. Okay. Mhm. Oh, wow. Thank you very, very much for being on the show. Um Again, I've I've shared a couple times already on the show that the the the tradition is, you know, as my highest recommendation. What are there some other coordinates on the internet or out there in the world that you would steer? Our listeners are really good at supporting the people on the show. Um Where's the best place to find a little bit more about you or your work? If people are interested, people can people have a website Jericho brown dot com. People can buy the book at Jericho Brown dot com or at Copper Canyon Press. They can buy the book like for people to buy the book at Indy bound. Indeed bound is sort of a centralizing location for all the independent bookstores. It's very important if I had to say anything. That is interesting that uh that I think is really now oriented is that it's very important that people buy books from independent bookstores from your local bookseller uh particularly at a time. Like now our bookstores have had a very hard time uh in the pandemic and so we want to shore up their ability to exist. Um Also I'm on twitter at Jericho Brown, I'm on Instagram at Jericho Brown one. Um I'm on facebook too, although facebook is like the worst. Anyway, let's just call it what it is like. Yeah. But yeah, you can find me incredible. I want to say a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you for inspiring so many congratulations on the, the, the accolades. I've mentioned the Pulitzer 100 notable books of the year from the new york Times book review. I mean the list is long. Um, please keep doing what you're doing and inspiring so many and uh, from our community to you and yours. Thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you. Thank you. Chase. All right, everybody until next time I bid you at you. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.