–questionnaire question. When she answered a student questionnaire question about what she was interested in and she specifically said angel wing begonias, and particularly her particular favorite [? Matilde, ?] and that struck me because my dad had grown angel wing begonias.
00:25 - You can’t buy them in stores anymore. If you want an angel wing begonia plant you’re going to have to talk to Jen or me afterwards.
00:33 - But her love note was what caught my attention.
00:36 - And from her love of angel wing begonias, her love grew into a love of poetry.
00:43 - And she has planted herself at Highline, being involved in National Poetry Committee, she’s an editor of our literary magazine, Arcturus.
00:53 - And I’m going to brag about her for a minute.
00:56 - She has sent out her work for the first time to a national journal and had two poems accepted.
01:03 - So you heard it here first. Without any further ado, I give you Jen [? Neeyet. ?] Hello, everyone.
01:11 - And thank you, Susan, for that wonderful introduction.
01:14 - I did not expect that. And thank you, everybody, for joining us for this reading and workshop with Jericho Brown, coordinated by the National Poetry Month Committee.
01:25 - Wow. And I’m Jen, one of the students of the National Poetry Committee.
01:30 - And I’m also an editor. And I wanted to share with everybody my own personal experience.
01:35 - So I hope that everyone takes something precious from today’s workshop in reading with Jericho Brown.
01:45 - I know I will. And poetry came later into my life, last fall actually, when I took Susan Rich’s creative writing class.
01:53 - I never knew I had the talent with words, translating my jambled thoughts into words and imagery that people can understand, or at least I hope so.
02:02 - And the only exposure I had to poetry, at least within my culture, were the code of conducts which pushed really strict gender rules.
02:11 - So when I was introduced to this other realm of poetry I was blown away.
02:16 - And now I’ve gotten two poems published, which I never knew could happen for me.
02:20 - And it could be the same for you as well. And anyways, enough about myself.
02:25 - I’m here to introduce Jericho Brown. And I first heard his poem, Prayer of the Backhanded, when watching his Ted Talk for Susan Rich’s class.
02:35 - And watching him perform brings another layer of depth and further meaning to his works.
02:40 - The pauses of breath, the change of speed, and watching his words from paper being animated into real life, the written words became alive.
02:50 - And I was completely mesmerized. I later uncovered how kind and generous he is, being sure to visit all the poets during a live reading event, and making sure to say something kind about their work afterwards.
03:04 - Jericho Brown is an exuberant, bright, and colorful human being that is bound to woo you into the literary world.
03:12 - Have you heard his laugh? It’s contagious, lively, capturing his personality in a brief moment.
03:20 - Jericho Brown’s first book, Please, won the American Book Award.
03:26 - His second book, The New Testament, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
03:31 - His most recent book, The Tradition, won the Paterson Poetry Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, which is one of the best awards that a poet can receive.
03:41 - His poems have also appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry.
03:49 - Previously, Jericho Brown worked as a speechwriter for the mayor of New Orleans.
03:55 - And he’s currently the director of the creative writing program and a professor at Emory University.
04:02 - And after reading all of his accolades, we can see that his world revolves around writing, maybe even a little obsessed.
04:09 - Now, the fabulous reading by Jericho Brown will be about 50 minutes and we’ll have a Q&A right afterwards.
04:17 - So be sure to hold on to your questions until after his performance.
04:22 - And after the Q&A, Jericho Brown will have a brief break because he’s going to be thirsty.
04:28 - But don’t you dare leave, he’ll be right back with the free workshop.
04:33 - Who wouldn’t stay for the workshop? You’ll be taught by one of the best poets of our time.
04:38 - And also, don’t forget to drop by the Highline’s bookstore to receive a 20% discount for Jericho Brown’s book.
04:47 - And then I’ll pass it along to Jericho. Thank you, Jen.
04:51 - Thank you. Thank you all for clapping.
04:52 - That’s so nice. That’s a really nice introduction.
04:55 - I really appreciate that. Thank you.
04:57 - You said some wonderful things about me and it makes me want to meet myself.
05:01 - I’m going to read some poems for you all.
05:06 - I do need to say first to this audience, I’m so sorry that we are running a little late.
05:11 - And I’ll try to make it such that it doesn’t feel like we’re running late.
05:15 - Everything that I have for you today I’m going to give you, even though we’re starting a little late.
05:22 - I’ve had, in 2019 and 2020, some really painful chronic health issues that are a lot better now, but still every once in a while will appear.
05:35 - And an appearance happened today. It actually happened as I was opening my computer getting ready to go.
05:42 - And I was like, wait a minute. I have something I can take, but it takes a second for it to kick in.
05:48 - And so I didn’t want to log in balled up holding my stomach in fetal position.
05:54 - I thought maybe that would not be a good way to give a poetry reading.
05:57 - But I’m OK and I have poems. And I wrote them.
06:00 - So I’ll read them to you. And I’ll start with a poem that Jen mentioned.
06:05 - Where I’m from, we always begin with prayer.
06:08 - So Prayer of the Backhanded. “Not the palm, not the pear tree switch, not the broomstick, nor the closest extension cord, not his braided belt, but God, bless the back of my daddy’s hand which, holding nothing tightly against me and not wrapped in leather, eliminated the air between itself and my cheek.
06:40 - Make full this dimpled cheek unworthy of its unfisted print and forgive my forgetting the love of a hand hungry for reflex, a hand that took no thought of its target like hail from a blind sky, involuntary, fast, but brutal in its bruising.
07:04 - Father, I bear the bridge of what might have been a broken nose.
07:10 - I lift to you what was a busted lip. Bless the boy who believes his best beatings lack intention, the mark of the beast.
07:23 - Bring back to life the a son who glories in the sin of immediacy, calling it love.
07:31 - God, save the man whose arm like an angel’s invisible wing may fly backward in fury whether or not his son stands near.
07:43 - Help me hold in place my blazing jaw as I think to say, excuse me. “ This next poem is titled after a phrase that I heard as a kid growing up in Louisiana.
08:00 - I’ve never heard people anywhere else make use of this phrase.
08:03 - One of the things that I’m doing when I’m writing is I’m trying to bring back to life the vernacular that I heard as a kid in the South growing up and trying to bring back to life language that seems, to me, lost or forgotten.
08:18 - There are certain things, certain ways of saying, that I remember from my childhood, and I try to bring those ways of saying back into my poems in a way to keep them alive or to canonize or instill them in some kind of memory, at least in the memory of my books.
08:39 - Foreday in the Morning. “My mother grew morning glories that spilled onto the walkway toward her porch because she was a woman with land who showed as much by giving it color.
08:52 - She told me I could have whatever I worked for.
08:56 - That means she was an American. But she’d say it was because she believed in God.
09:04 - I am ashamed of America and confounded by God.
09:08 - I thank God for my citizenship in spite of the timer set on my life to write these words: I love my mother.
09:18 - I love black women who plant flowers as sheepish as their sons.
09:23 - By the time the blooms unfurled themselves for a few hours of light, the women who tend them are already at work.
09:31 - Blue. I’ll never know who started the lie that we are lazy, but I’d love to wake that bastard up at foreday in the morning, toss him in a truck, and drive him under God past every bus stop in America to see all those black folk waiting to go work for whatever they want.
09:53 - A house? A boy to keep the lawn cut? Some color in the yard? My God, we leave things green. “ I’m sort of reading poems that come out of my childhood, so I’ll continue that with this next poem.
10:15 - Labor. “I spent what light Saturday sent sweating and learned to cuss cutting grass for women kind enough to say they couldn’t tell the damned difference between their mowed lawns and their vacuumed carpets just before–” [SNEEZE] sorry.
10:35 - I’m going to start over. My goodness.
10:37 - I thought I felt that sneeze. I’ve been feeling that sneeze for a poem and a half and I was like, well, I guess I could just hold this sneeze in forever.
10:46 - But it happened. So I have to start over now.
10:48 - Sorry. I’m glad that happened. Oh, y’all don’t know what it’s like to try to read a poem and hold a sneeze at the same time.
10:55 - Labor. “I spent what light Saturday sent sweating and learned to cuss cutting grass for women kind enough to say they couldn’t tell the damn difference between their mowed lawns and their vacuumed carpets just before handing over a five-dollar bill rolled tighter than a joint and asking me in to change a few light bulbs.
11:22 - I called those women old because they wouldn’t move out of a chair without my help or walk without a hand at the base of their backs.
11:34 - I called them old, and they must have been; they are all dead now, dead and in the earth I once tended.
11:44 - The loneliest people have the earth to love and not one friend their own age - only mothers to baby them and big sisters to boss them around, women they want to please and pray for the chance to say please to.
12:05 - I don’t do that kind of work anymore. My job is to look at the childhood I hated and say I once had something to do with my hands. “ This next poem has a little bit of the– it makes allusion to the Odyssey, which is a poem I loved when I was a kid.
12:31 - Reading it in high school, I fell in love with the Odyssey and I’ve been in love with it ever since.
12:36 - I should also add that I think of this poem as a descendant of a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks called Gay Chaps at the Bar.
12:51 - Hero. She never knew one of us from another so my brothers and I grew up fighting over our mother’s mind like sun-colored suitors in a Greek myth.
13:04 - We were willing to do evil. We kept chocolate around our mouths.
13:09 - The last of her mother’s lot, she cried at funerals, cried when she whipped me.
13:15 - She whipped me daily. I am most interested in people who declare gratitude for their childhood beatings.
13:23 - None of them took what my mother gave, waking us for school with sharp slaps to our bare thighs.
13:31 - That side of the family is darker. I should be grateful.
13:35 - So I will be - no one on Earth knows how many abortions happened before a woman risked her freedom by giving that risk a name, by taking it to breast.
13:48 - I don’t know why I am alive now that I still cannot impress the woman who whipped me into being.
13:56 - I turned my mother into a grandmother. She thanks me by kissing my sons.
14:03 - Gratitude is black - black is a hero returning from war to a country that banked on his death.
14:11 - Thank God. It can’t get much darker than that. “ I think someone mentioned that I’ll read for 50 minutes.
14:21 - And I promise y’all I won’t read for 50 minutes.
14:24 - Autobiography. I don’t usually talk so much, but I feel talky so y’all bear with me.
14:35 - I wrote this next poem after I was reflecting and thinking back again on childhood, and also thinking about all the ways I could make poems happen.
14:48 - And we’ll talk about that during our workshop later.
14:51 - But there’s so many ways that you can make a poem happen.
14:54 - And many of you know this, every time you write a poem you end up arriving at what ends up being the poem in a different way.
15:01 - Almost every time. It might have some things in common, but there must be something different about each time you write a poem.
15:08 - This poem is completely made up of sentences and phrases that I heard from other people when I was a kid growing up, in the church where I grew up, and in the neighborhood where I grew up.
15:19 - So this poem, in a way, it’s a cento in that it takes its lines from everywhere but me.
15:26 - There’s no original line in this poem. And yet, a cento takes all of its lines from other poems, so these people saying these things weren’t aware that they were saying poetry to me as they were saying these things.
15:38 - And you’ll see how I figured out which words and phrases I was going to use.
15:43 - There’s an anaphora that I make use of in the poem, a repetition.
15:51 - Autobiography. “Keep the line steady.
15:56 - Keep your back straight. Keep coming back for more.
16:01 - Keep fucking with me, Cletus, keep putting your hands on me like that and you’ll always have a place to lay your head.
16:09 - Keep my waistline down. Keep your figure up.
16:14 - Keep your man happy. Keep a woman crazy.
16:18 - Keep your daddy off your mama or next time I’m calling the police.
16:22 - Keep these nappy-headed children off my green, green grass.
16:27 - Keep talking smart if you want to. Keep looking at my man and I’ll cut you a new eyelid.
16:34 - Keep looking me in my face when you tell your next lie.
16:38 - [SINGING] Keep on walking I ain’t talking to you anymore.
16:43 - Keep holding that last note. Keep singing while I get the splinter out.
16:48 - Keep singing for Jesus, baby, and everything will be all right.
16:52 - Keep me in your prayers. Keep us in your thoughts.
16:56 - Keep your eyes on the black one, he ain’t got no sense.
16:59 - Keep your money in your pocket, Nelson, these hoes giving it away.
17:04 - Keep this one occupied, I’ll get his wallet.
17:08 - Keep on living, honey, and you’ll get old too. “ This next poem, in a way, is about all of those people who I heard making those statements.
17:23 - Again, a poem named after a very southern term.
17:33 - The title of this poem is N’em. And n’em means that person and everyone you associate with that person.
17:40 - It’s sort of a compound contraction for two words, and, them, which is always hilarious to me because that’s still not proper English.
17:50 - Tell your mama and them I said, hello. What? N’em.
17:57 - “They said to say good night and not goodbye, unplugged the TV when it rained.
18:04 - They hid money in mattresses so to sleep on decisions.
18:09 - Some of their children were not their children.
18:13 - Some of their parents had no birth dates. They could sweat a cold out of you.
18:20 - They’d wake without an alarm telling them to.
18:24 - Even the short ones reached certain shelves.
18:28 - Even the skinny cooked animals too quick to catch.
18:33 - And I don’t care how ugly one of them arrived, that one got married to somebody fine.
18:42 - They fed families with change and wiped their kitchens clean.
18:47 - Then another century came. People like me forgot their names. “ So maybe I’ll read about some of those people that I think of as my own, as my own personal n’em.
19:06 - Your n’em might be those that you know and sometimes maybe even those that you don’t necessarily know.
19:13 - My mom and dad is always, for better or worse, always going to be a part of my own personal n’em.
19:20 - As a Human Being. “There is the happiness you have and the happiness you deserve.
19:28 - They sit apart from each other the way you and your mother sat on opposite ends of the sofa after an ambulance came to take your father away.
19:39 - Some good doctor will stitch him up, and soon an aunt will arrive to drive your mother to the hospital where she will settle next to him forever, as promised.
19:53 - She holds the arm of her seat as if she could fall, as if it is the only sturdy thing, and it is since you’ve done what you always wanted.
20:05 - You fought your father and won, marred him.
20:10 - He’ll have a scar he can see all because of you.
20:14 - And your mother, the only woman you ever cried for, must tend to it as a bride tends to her vows, forsaking all others no matter how sore the injury.
20:28 - No matter how sore the injury has left you, you sit understanding yourself as a human being finally free now that nobody’s got to love you. “ So that’s one n’em, but then there’s this other n’em.
20:46 - And I thank God for my mom and dad because they had a van that was so old it only got one radio station and it happened to be the old-school station.
20:54 - So it made me the fan of people that I was really too young to be a fan of.
20:59 - When I was in elementary school and all of my friends were excited about the advent of hip hop, I was excited about that too, but I thought My Girl by The Temptations was the lit.
21:12 - I was like, oh. I had no idea it was a very old song.
21:16 - Another person that I came across in the van that would come up on the old-school radio station was a singer I love named Janis Joplin.
21:25 - And this is a poem in her voice. Track 5: Summertime, as performed by Janis Joplin.
21:34 - “God’s got his eye on me, but I ain’t a sparrow.
21:38 - I’m more like a lawnmower. No, a chainsaw, anything that might mangle each manicured lawn in Port Arthur, a place I wouldn’t return to if the mayor offered me every ounce of oil my daddy cans at the refinery.
21:55 - My voice, I mean, ain’t sweet. Nothing nice about it.
21:59 - It won’t fly even with Jesus watching. I don’t believe in Jesus.
22:06 - The Baxter boys climbed a tree just to throw persimmons at me.
22:10 - The good and perfect gifts from above hit like lightning, leave bruises.
22:16 - So I lied - I believe, but I don’t think God likes me.
22:22 - The girls in the locker room slapped dirty pads across my face.
22:26 - They call me Bitch, but I never bit back. I ain’t a dog.
22:32 - Chainsaw, I say. My voice hacks at you.
22:36 - I bet I tear my throat. I try so hard to sound jagged.
22:42 - I get high and say one thing so many times like Willie Baker who worked across the street - I saw some kids whip him with a belt while he repeated, please.
22:55 - School out, summertime, and the living lashed, mama said I should be thankful, that the town’s worse to coloreds than they are to me, that I’d grow out of my acne.
23:08 - God must love Willie Baker - all that leather and still a please that sounds like music.
23:15 - See. I wouldn’t know a sparrow from a mockingbird.
23:19 - The band plays. I just belt out, please.
23:23 - This tune ain’t half the blues. I should be thankful.
23:27 - I get high and moan like a lawnmower so nobody notices I’m such an ugly girl.
23:34 - I’m such an ugly girl. I try to sing like a man boys call, boy.
23:40 - I turn my face to God. I pray. I wish I could pour oil on everything green in Port Arthur. “ And finally, I’ll read about a n’em, this is actually really a poem completely about me.
23:57 - I think of this poem as a prayer more than I think of it as anything else.
24:01 - But I know that this poem exists because of having witnessed and having lived a life where I see a n’em that I have yet to understand, that seems not to be explained very well to me.
24:20 - That n’em is the people who have supposedly committed suicide while in police custody.
24:26 - That includes people like Jesus Huarte in North Carolina, who, after having been patted down while handcuffed, on the walk between the police cruiser to the building, where he was to be booked, supposedly, somehow managed to shoot himself in the back corner of his head.
24:43 - Victor White the Third in Louisiana, who, after having been patted down, while handcuffed sitting in the back seat of the police cruiser, somehow managed to supposedly shoot himself in his upper back.
24:59 - Sandra Bland in Texas, who, after a day of fighting for her life, many of you saw that video, was put in a cell where she hung herself with a trash bag.
25:11 - What’s interesting about that is that there is video footage of her in that cell and for whatever reason that feed, that video, goes out.
25:19 - There’s technical difficulty. And that technical difficulty occurs at the very moment that the coroner says she must have hung herself with a trash bag.
25:28 - Bullet Points. “I will not shoot myself in the head and I will not shoot myself in the back, and I will not hang myself with a trash bag, and if I do, I promise you, I will not do it in a police car while handcuffed or in the jail cell of a town I only know the name of because I have to drive through it to get home.
25:53 - Yes, I may be at risk, but I promise you, I trust the maggots who live beneath the floorboards of my house to do what they must to any carcass more than I trust an officer of the law of the land to shut my eyes like a man of God might, or to cover me with a sheet so clean my mother could have used it to tuck me in.
26:20 - When I kill me, I will do it the same way most Americans do, I promise you: cigarette smoke or a piece of meat on which I choke or so broke I freeze in one of these winters we keep calling worst.
26:37 - I promise if you hear of me dead anywhere near a cop, then that cop killed me.
26:44 - He took me from us and left my body, which is, no matter what we’ve been taught, greater than the settlement a city can pay a mother to stop crying, and more beautiful than the new bullet fished from the folds of my brain. “ So one of the things that many of us find ourselves trying to do when we write our poems, I don’t necessarily try to do this, but I do find it happening, I should say, when I’m writing my poems, is that something of the contemporary.
27:22 - In many ways, that last poem is a poem about a real American history that isn’t particularly contemporary at all.
27:31 - But there is something about the contemporary moment that prepares us, or that ignites a poem like that to happen.
27:38 - So I wanted to read you again another recent poem of mine.
27:43 - Give me a second because it seems to have disappeared.
27:51 - And it is a new poem so I don’t– here it is.
28:03 - Here it is. Sorry about that.
28:10 - So I’ll read you this poem, which I do think speaks to that moment.
28:14 - Say Thank You Say I’m Sorry. “I don’t know whose side you’re on, but I am here for the people who work in grocery stores that glow in the morning and closed down for deep cleaning at night right up the street and in cities I mispronounce, in towns too tiny from my big black car to quit, and in every wide corner of Kansas where going to school means at least one field trip to a slaughterhouse.
28:46 - I want so little: another leather bound book, a gimlet with a lavender gin, bread so good when I taste it I can tell you how it’s made.
28:58 - I’d like us to rethink what it is to be a nation.
29:01 - I’m in a mood about America today. I have PTSD about the Lord.
29:08 - God save the people who work in grocery stores.
29:12 - They know a bit of glamour is a lot of glamour.
29:16 - They know how much it costs for the eldest of us to eat.
29:21 - Save my loves and not my sentences. Before I see them, I draw a mole near my left dimple, add flair to the smile they can’t see behind my mask.
29:35 - I grin or lie or maybe I wear the mouth of a beast.
29:41 - I eat wild animals while some of us grow up knowing what gnocchi is.
29:46 - The people who work at the grocery don’t care.
29:49 - They say, thank you. They say, sorry, we don’t sell motor oil any more with a grief so thick you could touch it.
29:59 - Go on. Touch it. It is early.
30:03 - It is late. They have washed their hands.
30:06 - They have washed their hands for you. And they take the bus home. “ So I’d like to finish with a poem.
30:17 - One day I’ll be dead and people maybe, I hope, that would be nice, people would say whatever it is that they have to say about the poems.
30:26 - And everything they say about the poems will be true.
30:30 - But I don’t want this one piece of truth to be left out.
30:34 - You can say things that are true one by one or you can tell the whole story.
30:38 - And I feel like I’m a love poet. So I’ll read y’all a love poem.
30:44 - And then we’ll have time for conversation. Stand.
30:50 - Peace on this planet or guns glowing hot, we lay there together as if we were getting something done.
30:59 - It felt like planting a garden or planning a meal for people who still need feeding, all that touching or barely touching, not saying much, not adding anything.
31:15 - The cushion of it, the skin and occasional sigh, all seemed like work worth mastering.
31:24 - I’m sure somebody died while we made love. Somebody killed somebody Black.
31:32 - I thought then of holding you as a political act.
31:37 - I may as well have held myself. We didn’t stand for one thought, didn’t do a damn thing, and though you left me, I’m glad we didn’t. “ Thank you all so much.
31:52 - Thank you. Y’all are so kind. I see Kelly out there.
31:55 - How are you doing, Kelly? Thanks for being here.
31:56 - And I didn’t get to say this, but big thanks to Susan Rich and to Deborah.
32:01 - But Susan I’ve known for a long time. so thank you for having me here, Susan.
32:05 - Did anyone have any questions they want to ask? Should I go through the chat for questions or is there a person that’s going to tell me? That’s a really good question.
32:15 - Thank you so much. That was a magnificent reading.
32:18 - And I’m so used to doing this in person that I have not come up with a format for Q&A. So, Deborah, do you have a sense of how to do this? Right.
32:28 - There’s no questions in the chat right now, but if people want to type in their questions I can read them out.
32:33 - Or, you can unmute yourself and ask the question.
32:35 - So it depends on how you want to do it. It’s really great if you could raise your– if your camera’s on, if you raise your hand, or if you put that little hand up that I’ve never known how to put up, [INAUDIBLE] raise– if you put that hand up I’ll look around until I see it.
32:49 - I have to go through three pages to see it, though.
32:51 - But if you put it in the chat we can answer from there, too.
32:54 - It’s always nice, though, to hear voices and to be able to talk to people directly.
33:00 - [? LauraLee ?] has a question. Hey, [? LauraLee. ?] Hi, thank you for your readings today.
33:08 - It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a poetry reading.
33:11 - I’m married to a Black man here in the Pacific Northwest, Washington.
33:20 - Congratulations and I’m jealous. I, too, would like to be married to a black man.
33:28 - If you could send one of my way. See if he got a brother.
33:32 - Anyway, sorry. That wasn’t your question.
33:37 - I thought your question was, would you, too, like to be married to a Black man? [INTERPOSING VOICES] Yes.
33:43 - [INAUDIBLE] Everybody would want to be like, yes, but some of us is already married to people that’s not Black and so we can’t publicly– sorry, I’m listening, [? LauraLee. ?] So, he’s from Illinois and his family moved over here.
34:01 - He had a rough childhood in some areas. He’s kind of estranged from his parents right now for no particular reason, we can’t put our finger on it.
34:13 - He’s had a rough couple of years. He’s married to a white woman, he works in the construction field where it’s usually predominately white, and by nature he’s a very artistic man.
34:26 - He draws. He writes music. He makes music.
34:32 - He dresses extremely sharp. And it just seems like this last year to six months, especially since COVID and everything that’s been going on in the nation, he’s been, I think, struggling in a way that I cannot relate as a white person.
34:52 - Even though the neighborhood I grew up in was very diverse, and as a white person I was the minority there, it doesn’t even touch what most Black people experience in their day-to-day life throughout the country.
35:07 - And so I was thinking that he would really appreciate your style of writing in his privacy of reading, in his own space.
35:18 - So I was wanting to know if you could recommend, of your books of poems, a book or two that I could start with that might be helpful to him in maybe working some stuff that’s going on in him because he’s not a big talker.
35:37 - But I’ve been married to him for 25 years, so I know that there’s something going on with him that’s related to everything that’s going on.
35:46 - I can tell by the things he’s reading and watching.
35:48 - And I can tell he’s upset. And I want to give him a bit of an outlet, a creative outlet.
35:55 - I think poetry is a wonderful way to– considering the pressures that we are under individually, not just as a nation, and not just as citizens of the world, but we have individual pressures that we otherwise would not have except for the times we are living in.
36:16 - And I do think that poetry can be a kind of salve, a kind of medicine, an ointment even, that helps you feel in the midst of those things.
36:29 - If I were to recommend one of my own books maybe I would recommend the most recent, which is, I only have three, the most recent, which is The Tradition, because it might be more directly contemporary in some ways.
36:43 - And I think it would be good to look at other people’s work as well.
36:48 - Also, I think it’s a good idea to look at things that are good and get us thinking and get us moving that also might not be about the moment in a direct way.
36:59 - A book of poems I love, for instance, in moments like this, is a book by Christine Garren.
37:06 - It’s called Among the Monarchs. I love that book.
37:09 - So you might give them that, too, as well as The Tradition.
37:12 - Don’t miss out on giving anybody The Tradition.
37:14 - Give people that book, honey. You can give him The New Testament.
37:18 - You can give him Please. You can give him any one of these books.
37:22 - Somebody’s handing me– no, I’m playing. So that’s it.
37:26 - But I’ll also say that you being there for him is probably really important.
37:33 - But what will also be– I can say what I would like to see, but who knows.
37:37 - What might also be good, and I think this is maybe how– well, maybe it’s just how I feel.
37:42 - I don’t want to act like I’m any kind of representative for Black people all over the country.
37:48 - But knowing that, it helps to understand that white people who have some sense are willing to have conversations with white people who don’t, there is nothing– these things that white people in the United States are becoming aware of are things that Black people have generation– we’ve known our entire lives.
38:12 - And we know in a generational way. It’s handed down to us.
38:16 - So we’re not just carrying the weight of the moment, we’re– when I carry the weight of the moment I’m also carrying the weight of every story I’ve ever heard about my two sharecropping grandfathers.
38:26 - Do you understand what I mean? And having one another, Black people having Black people to express and to hug and to hold in this moment, is very great.
38:37 - But being able to see white people be understanding, not just to us but to one another, is actually, for me at least, much more helpful.
38:45 - And the reason it’s more helpful is because I already know y’all ain’t listening to me.
38:50 - I can go back to Langston Hughes to prove that y’all ain’t listening to me.
38:54 - If you ain’t listening to Langston Hughes you sure are not going to listen to Jericho Brown.
38:57 - Do y’all understand what I mean? And not just Jericho Brown.
39:02 - Right? Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich.
39:04 - There’s a thing that happens where I think it’s good for white people to have conversations with each other that they have in the past been afraid of having because this is probably your opportunity to have it.
39:17 - I’ll stop there. I think that’s my best answer for that, [? LauraLee. ?] Thank you, Jericho.
39:23 - Thank you. I’m going to pull the questions out of chat and read you those in the order that they came in.
39:29 - So the next question was from April. And she asks, can you explain n’em a little more, please? So I’m thinking maybe the contraction and what it stands for.
39:40 - [INTERPOSING VOICES] In the American South if you see somebody, and I think in other places, too, because of travel, but definitely in the South– and I don’t even think this is racial.
39:50 - I think this is a case for white people and Black people and everybody else in the South.
39:56 - Let’s say you went to high school with somebody and you haven’t seen them for a very long time, but when you did know them before you knew their family, you would say when you see them again you would say, hey, how you doing? How you been? How is your momma and n’em? And that momma and n’em, or Beyonce and n’em, meaning Destiny’s Child, or– do you understand what I mean? There’s a way that and n’em, to the other people, let’s you know exactly who you’re talking about without having to list all the people or without having to make a proper name for those people.
40:29 - It’s like when people say– this used to happen in the South, or I would overhear it in the South.
40:34 - This didn’t really happen in my family but I have heard people say things like, oh, this is, oh, this is, this is, this is William [? Blank ?] of the Alabama [? Blanks ?] So it’s sort of like that, I think.
40:48 - Now I know which [? Blanks. ?] Do you know what I’m saying? So the and n’em is like, oh, you know those people.
40:54 - Yeah. Yeah, thank you. The next question is from [? Malalupa. ?] Excuse me, [? Malalupe. ?] Sorry, I said your name wrong.
41:02 - I apologize. Which writers influence your poetry? It’s hard to narrow down.
41:08 - I think of Toni Morrison as a great influence.
41:11 - Lucille Clifton. Gwendolyn Brooks, who I’ve probably mentioned today because I’m almost mentioning her every day I find without remembering that I’ve done it.
41:21 - I was just on the phone talking with a friend of mine about Frank O’Hara.
41:25 - Bernadette Mayer has been really important to me and– for a long time actually.
41:36 - Definitely in writing my first and second book, Bernadette Mayer’s poetry was very important to me.
41:41 - Who else? Sometimes there are poems– you know that poem Charlie Howard’s Descent by Mark Doty, was very helpful to me.
41:51 - I learned a lot from it about how I wanted to do what I wanted to do.
41:55 - I think my teachers are obviously influential writers.
41:59 - My teachers were Claudia Rankine, Nick Flynn, John Gary, Kate Murphy, Mark Doty.
42:07 - Who else? Sometimes it’s not writing, sometimes it’s film, sometimes it’s art.
42:18 - So obviously the movie Moonlight, I think I wouldn’t have been able to finish this last book if that movie hadn’t come out while I was writing it.
42:29 - So, yeah, it’s a hard list to narrow. Carl Phillips.
42:35 - Obviously Reginald Shepherd. Oh, Essex Hemphill, so important to me.
42:40 - Yeah. And probably a constantly shifting list.
42:44 - Well not only that, you know who you love. Louise Gluck and Lucille Clifton are probably my first poets that I was like, oh my God, let me read everything they ever write.
42:57 - But the truth is that you– I’m not saying this in any prescriptive way and I’m not saying this in any shady way, but you should be reading so much that you kind of don’t know.
43:09 - You understand that your writing is descended from all that you are encountering, but if you were put in a position where you had to figure out which thing led to which poem you wouldn’t be able to do it because you’ve been reading so many poems.
43:23 - Oh, and since we’re waiting on the next question I’ll add to that that one way to make sure you’re reading a lot of poems is to let things go and stop stressing out about the fact that you don’t like a poem or you don’t like a book.
43:39 - People get all stressed out, but nobody feels that way about music.
43:43 - I don’t understand this thing. Yet, if we turn on the radio, or even if you play one of your playlists right now, you really don’t actually hear all the songs.
43:53 - Every once in a while you hear a song and you’re like, oh, that’s messed up.
43:56 - You put all 20 of these songs on this playlist and you heard three if you lucky washing your dishes, taking a shower, working out.
44:06 - Mowing the yard. Do y’all understand what I’m saying? So for me, what was really important at the beginning of my poetry career was going to a Barnes & Noble, which is the bookstore we had, going to the poetry section and starting at A and opening the book and starting a poem and being bored to pieces thinking it was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
44:33 - By the time I was on line three closing the book and putting it back.
44:37 - I don’t want to beat anybody up. Yeah, I don’t think I hate– oh, I didn’t like that.
44:42 - I hate poetry. People think they hate poetry and I’m like, you read three poems.
44:46 - You’re at two poems and you hate poetry? Dang.
44:49 - Do y’all know what I’m saying? So I go to A and I get through A.
44:52 - And if I keep going sooner or later, somebody in A I like.
44:56 - And that’s about the right ratio. You’re probably going to like one person in every letter.
45:02 - But that’s 26 poets. And that’s actually a lot.
45:06 - And Susan knows this, people who are poets, Kelly know– 26 poets is a lot of poets to like.
45:13 - If I ask y’all to name 26 singers you want to hear, you would have a hard time after you get to 6.
45:21 - Do y’all understand what I’m saying? You would be like, um.
45:24 - You would get to seven but you would be like, um.
45:27 - Do y’all follow what I’m saying? And I hate to see what happens by the time you get to 20.
45:33 - Like, wait, I know it’s more singers. And you would do whatever you needed to do to figure out who that is because you really believe in yourself that you love music.
45:41 - But the ratio really suggests that you don’t.
45:44 - If you really think of all the music that there is and how much music you actually like, you don’t love music.
45:55 - And I think the ratio is the same for any art, for dance, for painting, for any art, and definitely for poetry.
46:01 - But there is this weight. Poetry has to carry the burden of wisdom.
46:06 - Everybody wants to read the poem and then be changed instantaneously.
46:11 - Do y’all know what I’m saying? There’s this expectation, oh, I read your poem and now I’m treating my children better.
46:19 - Good luck. Do y’all understand what I mean? So poetry carries this burden where people really are hungry and thirsty for it and have these huge expectations from it.
46:30 - And if it does not deliver those expectations instantaneously everybody’s like, oh, fuck poetry.
46:36 - I’m like, what happened? Y’all don’t do that with nobody y’all love.
46:43 - So why y’all treating poetry like that? Anyway, sorry.
46:47 - Seriously, you have actually had better times with poems than you have with your daddy.
46:53 - But you love your daddy. And you’re going to tell me you hate– never mind.
46:58 - I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Never.
47:01 - Thank you very much. We had a few more questions but I think we we’re after the break point, so we should probably take a five minute break so you can get some water, [INAUDIBLE] So can I tell you what I would like to do after the break? And then, Susan, you could tell me if that’s OK.
47:20 - I was going to share with y’all and I think I’ll be able to get to those questions if I do it this way.
47:26 - I have this list of what I call best practices.
47:29 - And I was going to share that list with y’all so y’all can have something to hold on to that I think would be useful during writing and during revision.
47:38 - So I’ll give you that list, and then maybe I can do some of those same questions right after I do the list and take the other questions as well.
47:46 - I think it’ll work out because some of the questions are about inspiration and advice for people who are new to poetry and things like that.
47:53 - So I think that will actually work pretty well.
47:55 - Well, welcome back. Susan, I think you had an idea for how this should work.
48:02 - And, Jericho, you have a plan and you guys go ahead.
48:04 - And I’ve got the questions that I can ask later if we have time.
48:08 - OK. Susan, do you want to speak first? My plan is to hand it over to Jericho.
48:14 - And it would be great if there’s time to do a real brief writing exercise, but I’m more interested in having you make it what you want.
48:22 - So I’m giving it over to you. OK. We have 50 minutes so brief writing exercise? I might be able to do something when I get to one of these.
48:33 - I mentioned this to you, I don’t know if somebody is new here, on the first day of class I give my students, what I call, these really– actually, on the first day of my advanced workshop.
48:44 - I actually don’t do this in intro or in intermediate, but in the advanced workshop I give my students this list of best practices.
48:54 - And maybe I should do it in intermediate or in intro.
48:58 - I think what I fear about the list is that it begins to sound like a list of dos and don’ts.
49:07 - I definitely don’t want to call it a list of dos and don’ts, because one thing that I have learned about, learned this through being a student, and I’ve definitely been taught it again by my own students, when you tell a student that you can’t do something they spend the semester trying to do that very thing.
49:23 - So I have figured out what these are not, are dos and don’ts.
49:30 - But I do think if you think about this list in terms of best practices you can choose not to do the best practice.
49:39 - But at least then it’s a choice. Do y’all understand what I mean? And it’s better to be able to make the choice.
49:45 - Michael Dumanis, my very good friend, who teaches writing and who edited the who’s– he has a book called My Soviet Union.
49:52 - And he edited the anthology, along with Kate Marvin, the anthology, Legitimate Dangers.
49:57 - He really believes in poems as a series of decisions.
50:00 - So that’s not on this list, but I think of that as a best practice, too.
50:07 - Right? Knowing every step of the way in a poem you’re making a decision will actually be of use to you, because when you are revising the poem you can think about options as opposed to thinking you are nailed down in one single position.
50:25 - So, first best practice, or maybe second if we count that one as first.
50:35 - Try to write lines rather than line breaks.
50:40 - One way to figure out what your own personal line length is in a poem in lines is to figure out when you feel like you’ve actually said something musical in the space of a line.
50:52 - Can you be both musical and give some kind of information in the space of a line? Now, for some of us, that’s going to be eight syllables or four beats or three beats.
51:05 - And so it’ll be a short line and that’s who you are and that’s how your line works and that’s OK.
51:10 - For some of us, that’s going to be more like five beats, which is a medium-sized line, about 10 syllables.
51:16 - And for some of us it will be longer. It’ll be a Whitmanian or a Ginsbergian line, or a line from someone like C. K. Williams, a line that is really long.
51:26 - Actually, Christine Garren’s lines are actually long considering her poems.
51:29 - But if you can think about the line as the unit of poetry then you can be in a position where if you get a line you can be pleased with the line.
51:43 - You don’t have to stress out that nothing else is coming.
51:47 - You can get excited about the fact that I got a line.
51:50 - Do y’all understand what I mean? The writer, Virginia Woolf, used to get really excited because she understood– she would say to anyone around her, to her husband in particular, she would say, I think I have a sentence.
52:05 - And he understood when she would say, I think I have a sentence, like, OK, I won’t see you for a year because you’re going to be writing a novel or– do y’all understand what I mean? And having a sentence means there’s something going on.
52:18 - So you have to believe in yourself at the line level.
52:21 - I like that line therefore, it’s worth it. And if you write a line down you have already begun writing a poem.
52:28 - That doesn’t mean that that line has to result in a poem the same day you write it down.
52:35 - Everybody with that? If you’re thinking about line breaks then you’re always thinking about, well, what do I say next? And then that’ll stress you out.
52:44 - Don’t stress yourself out. Number two, time your abstractions.
52:51 - A lot of workshop facilitators, teachers will tell you not to use abstractions in poetry.
52:58 - And I don’t think it’s about not using abstractions.
53:01 - I think instead that it is about having abstractions placed at just the right moment, which means you need a certain amount of concretes in order to say an abstraction.
53:18 - Generally, again, I don’t want to be prescriptive about this, but you have to be aware of it, I would say in a sonnet– let’s say a sonnet’s 14 lines.
53:26 - Right? I would try to go three lines before saying love or hate or joy or maybe even celebration.
53:38 - Do y’all understand what I mean? Because if I want to get at those things, I’ve got to have some things that shore them up.
53:46 - I also think that if you can find a thing that is literal, rather than the abstraction, it’s always good to use the thing that is literal.
53:55 - Let the reader do the work. Saying I love you is great.
54:01 - People want to hear that. Kissing somebody and telling them, you taste so good you like Jolly Rancher, that’s another thing.
54:09 - They’re not going to forget that. They’re going to try to kiss you again.
54:12 - They want to hear that. Do y’all understand what I mean? So you can say love and that’s cool, people like love, but you can also say Jolly Rancher.
54:21 - Does that make sense? Everybody with that? At any rate, I would try to say some things that are real before saying things that we can’t touch or hold on to or smell.
54:33 - OK? That’s not to say that love is not real, it’s that it is not– if it can be embodied in a thing then we can better understand it as readers.
54:43 - Leave your subject alone until it’s time for revision.
54:50 - Let the original idea go. Many of you may have already read this essay by Richard Hugo called Writing Off the Subject and this is part of that.
55:04 - And I think a good thing for you to do if I was to give homework today I would say– it’s online.
55:09 - Writing Off the Subject by Richard Hugo is online in a few places, actually.
55:15 - Maybe somebody could drop a link to it. But part of what you want to do while you’re writing poems is you want to give up on whatever you thought you wanted to write about.
55:26 - Let that girl go. Who cares? Let it go.
55:33 - Y’all sit down swearing y’all want to write about a tree, swearing you want to write about your son, swearing you want to write about your mama.
55:39 - And poems are investigation. When you’re writing a poem you’re doing an investigation through language so to reach a discovery, in order to reach a discovery.
55:56 - If you know everything you will never discover anything.
56:01 - So if you know where you’re going when you write the poem that’s all well and good, but you have not written a poem until you say something you don’t expect to say.
56:12 - When you say something you don’t expect to say in a poem that’s when the real writing has begun, because you got to follow up on that thing.
56:21 - Is everybody with me? So you can let the original idea as you are writing– yes, an original idea might sit you down to write, but it’s OK to meander.
56:30 - It’s OK to problematize. It’s OK to let the original idea go, such that you’re in a position where you can say things you didn’t expect to say.
56:38 - Does that make sense? Everybody with me? That’s next best practice.
56:45 - Every line a surprise. Try making the next thing you say related on the side.
56:53 - So let me explain what I mean there. I have every line a surprise there because it’s something I literally had back when you couldn’t move your computer around.
57:03 - There was a place that you had to be to work because your computer was just– it had to be there.
57:08 - You couldn’t carry that girl with you. And there used to be written over the place where I worked, over that computer space, this mantra that I would always say while I was writing, every line of surprise.
57:20 - Such that when I wrote a line I would almost immediately try in the next line to follow that first line’s music but not to follow its subject.
57:32 - I wanted to say something after I write a line, and I would do this in poems that have lots of lines.
57:39 - Now it’s not so hard for me, but I was really trying to train myself that every time I write a line I want to say something I didn’t know I was going to [? sing. ?] So I’d almost stop myself.
57:52 - I would be writing the line, going to the next line, like, no, I knew I was going to say that.
57:56 - Say something else. What happens if I say something else? And this is another way of getting you to a point where you can– you’re writing, you’re making language happen on the page, but you end up tapping into your subconscious, your unconscious mind.
58:14 - And again, you end up saying things that are your real concerns, but you don’t expect to say them when you sit down.
58:23 - This is going to come up again, but I’ll be a little more clear about this, what it means to surprise yourself.
58:30 - Contrary to what people seem to believe about my own poems, I would never, if I felt I had the choice, write about my mom and dad.
58:41 - I would definitely not be writing about the police.
58:48 - Do y’all know what I’m saying? I would much rather write about things that make it easier for somebody to name me poet laureate.
58:56 - Do y’all know what I mean? When I’m writing my poems it comes a point in revision where I realize, oh, this is what I’m really thinking about because that is what I said.
59:12 - And you want that to be the experience you have writing your poems.
59:16 - If you write what you knew you were thinking about then you don’t get to have that experience.
59:23 - So again, you don’t get to have the investigation and you don’t have the discovery of what you were actually thinking about.
59:30 - Does that make sense? Can I say something else about this and why it’s so important to me? Maybe this gets out of my zone.
59:41 - I have an MFA and a PhD in poetry. I do not have degrees in spirituality or in psychology.
59:48 - But I will say that if I’m not writing what surprises me then I am not doing the kind of work necessary to change my life.
60:03 - So what happens, and what I mean by that is, I will write something and I will literally read it to myself and say, Jericho, is that what you think? And if I’ve written it down then I’m in a position where I have to have a conversation, an ethical and moral conversation, with myself about how I live my life.
60:26 - Because you will find that you write things down that you are like, do I believe that? If the answer to that turns out to be yes that means the rest of your life has to look like it, has to look like the answer to that is, yes, I actually do believe that.
60:41 - This is why the investigation and discovery thing is so important.
60:43 - Many of us know this, as you get older you look back and you’re like, oh, I really thought this but that was crazy.
60:48 - I think this instead and I live like it. Do you all follow I mean? And that’s what I want to get from my own poems.
60:55 - Next best practice. Every sentence should be clear.
61:04 - If you write a sentence and after that sentence you think that, quote, you think, quote, “Oh, they’ll know what I mean,” then you need to rewrite that damn sentence.
61:19 - Stop playing. Don’t play that. Don’t do that to yourself and do not do that to the reader.
61:26 - That’s not fair. You don’t want anybody doing that to you, so don’t do that to– oh, they’ll figure it out.
61:31 - Oh, they’ll know what I mean. And if you think that that is it, then you need to rewrite that.
61:39 - Be clear. Do the work to write the line.
61:42 - Do the work to write the sentence. Next, write the literal before writing the metaphorical or the figurative.
61:53 - Write the literal, think about the literal, and write the literal before writing the metaphorical or the figurative.
62:03 - By that part of what I mean is be careful about how many feelings you allow personification.
62:15 - So often you’ll say– it’s not that this sentence won’t work.
62:21 - In this Robert Hayden poem that I love, and that many of us love, Those Winter Sundays, he says something about fearing the chronic angers of that house.
62:32 - Do y’all remember that line? It’s so beautiful, fearing the chronic angers of that house.
62:38 - So I think that works in that poem. But part of the reason why it works in that poem is probably because it works in that poem via revision.
62:47 - Do y’all understand what I’m saying? In the original moment of writing it’s a really good idea to say what is real, to say what is happening.
62:57 - If you get caught up on something that’s not actually in the scene, that’s not in the dramatic situation, then you’ll end up saying things that don’t make sense to the reader.
63:08 - You’ll get caught up in some sort of New Agey, spiritual speak that doesn’t actually look like characters moving around and talking in your poems or having experiences in your poems.
63:19 - Next. Be bold, lose your mind.
63:28 - Be bold, lose your mind. Say the unsayable.
63:34 - The poems that you love most, and this is without fail, we could take a poll, the poems you love most people say crazy things that you are not willing to bring up in conversation for a chat in the grocery store line with strangers.
64:01 - So, if that is true, if the poems you love– I have yet to see the poem where somebody– I think I heard a Fly buzz - when I died is crazy.
64:11 - But you have to be willing to write it for it to exist.
64:18 - But can y’all imagine– I think it is completely bold, I heard a Fly buzz - when I died.
64:25 - That is ridiculous. But you have to be bold enough and ridiculous enough, crazy enough, you have to have lost your mind in order to write it down.
64:37 - If you can be bold while you are writing your poems you can say things that might not make sense in that moment but just keep writing, because that’s what revision is there for.
64:46 - When you need to take those things out, you can take them out.
64:49 - But you might not need to. They might work in the poem.
64:53 - Does that make sense? I teach a craft class in which I show in American poetry, particularly in a short poem, there’s always this penultimate moment where people say things that are like nonsense or senselessness.
65:08 - And it’s because I really do believe poets are– where I’m getting to the end of my poem and therefore I should be losing my mind.
65:16 - Remember that poems are like songs. When you’re listening to, let’s just say, any pop song, any R&B song, any country western song, when you’re listening to that song things pretty much– that first verse is song with the melody, the second verse has some variation, but then after that there is a bridge.
65:35 - And following that bridge probably a key change.
65:39 - And if you listen to the music that I listen to, after that key change there’s a bunch of hollering.
65:44 - If you think about poetry as song and you think about the songs you love, somebody is always losing their mind in a song.
65:54 - Like why are you– girl, what happened? You were singing so nicely.
66:01 - I’m sorry, I just have to say this. The person who I think is best for this is the singer Gladys Knight, whose every song begins in story and in whispers.
66:10 - [SINGING] It’s sad to think we’re not going to make it.
66:14 - And you would think that the song was going to be just nice, just like that.
66:18 - But it’s not. She will be screaming at you by the end of that song.
66:24 - Next one. If you say the same thing twice get rid of the second best one.
66:34 - If you say the same thing twice get rid of the second best one.
66:39 - Next. Metaphorical consistency, build a world.
66:51 - One way to think about this is to think about conceit.
66:53 - We know a conceit is an extended metaphor. Metaphorical consistency allows for you to build a world in the space of the poem.
67:03 - And it helps you write the rest of the poem.
67:07 - Once you make a comparison then that tells you where your poem can move, where your poem can go.
67:16 - So when I say, the linebacker was a bear, that means in that poem I can have anything about football, about stadiums, about fans, about players, about coaches and referees, but I can also have anything about forests.
67:36 - Do y’all see what I mean? And that’s the world of the poem.
67:40 - So sometimes people feel locked in because they’re like, oh, I’m still stuck in this stadium because I was writing about this linebacker.
67:47 - But I’m saying I’m telling you, you’re not locked in because you said he was like a bear.
67:54 - So therefore, that’s what allows you to move beyond the poem.
67:57 - When you say, the linebacker was a bear, then you end up in a position where by the end of the poem you have said something about the fact that the bears, who were once north are now moving south, and that bears that have never made it together are suddenly mating with one another because we are destroying our planet, because it’s too hot and they want to survive.
68:20 - You see what I mean? Football, too, seems to be worried about extinction.
68:24 - But that’s another question. Do y’all follow what I’m saying? But you can’t get there– I just made that up, by the way.
68:32 - I didn’t make up those facts, I just made up the end of the poem.
68:37 - But you can’t get there if you don’t allow the metaphors to lead you.
68:42 - If you sat down to write about a linebacker you going to get you a poem that’s born about a linebacker.
68:48 - But if you let that bear have its way, you get to say more things.
68:52 - Next. I’ll save modifiers for the end.
69:00 - Read the poem aloud to yourself. When you read the poem aloud to yourself you’re reading for slow moments.
69:14 - If you are having a hard time listening– my students, I tell them, read the poems aloud to yourself.
69:20 - And they say, yeah, but it’s so boring. I’m like, what do you think that mean about your poem? If you are reading your poem and you read three lines and you like, oh, I’m writing, and you get to that fourth line you’re like, let me hurry up and get to this fifth line because that fourth line was boring, and then you read the fifth line and it is good again, that’s not the end– what? Do something about the fourth line that was slow coming out of your mouth.
69:46 - Do y’all follow what I’m saying? Read the poems aloud.
69:50 - Another thing that I think is a good idea that’s not on this list, if you can, always be listening to poems.
69:59 - Always be listening to poems. I have literally all of my music on shuffle, so the gospel comes up right after the country western, comes up right after the R&B, comes up right after the– I don’t know what’s going to happen.
70:14 - And I like that because I’m a hot mess. But in the midst of all that, Langston Hughes comes up, Nikki Giovanni comes up, Camille Dungey comes up, I come up.
70:25 - Do y’all understand what I mean? And so you can get poems, listen to them.
70:30 - Before you know it, you’ll know more poems by heart.
70:32 - And that’s always wonderful. But also, when you do that you’re getting the rhythms and the sounds of poetry in your head.
70:39 - The more you listen to poetry, I believe, the easier it becomes to read it because now you know what the poems sound like.
70:46 - So when you sit down to read them it’s almost like you can hear them.
70:50 - Does that make sense? So listen to as much poetry as possible when you’re writing your own poems.
70:55 - Read them aloud to yourself. If you have a person you’re working with, a writing friend or a writing partner or working in a workshop, it’s a good idea to find ways to hear somebody else reading your poem to you.
71:13 - When you hear somebody else reading your poem to you, you will very quickly figure out what you want to change about your poem.
71:18 - One of the most inspiring moments in my life, my very good friend, the poet, James Allen Hall, I was really down, we were applying for jobs and applying for– there’s a point at which you’re apply for everything and everybody’s saying no about everything and that’s just the way life is.
71:39 - And I remember I woke up one morning and he had left on my voicemail all these recordings of my poems.
71:48 - And he was doing that to show me that I really was a writer.
71:52 - It was the nicest thing. It’s one of the nicest things anybody’s ever done for me.
71:56 - Next. This sort of goes with that slow moment thing.
72:03 - Write poetry, don’t write prose. Now that gets hard because people are like, how do I know the difference between prose and poetry? And usually you can tell that in the space of a poem.
72:16 - Is this moving forward in a way that is interested in giving exposition? Is this moving forward in a way that is interested in giving background? Or, is this just the information as it is, which is more, it seems to me, poetry.
72:31 - Do y’all follow what I’m saying? Is this trying to be flowery, as people like to say, or is this in the midst of life, which I think is closer to poetry and not prose.
72:41 - And I actually think you can hear that if you look for it.
72:45 - Next. If you can, sometimes it’s impossible, but if you can, try to stay away from to be verbs.
72:57 - Try to stay away from is, are, to be. Try to use action verbs whenever you can.
73:07 - Use the kind of verbs that keep things alive.
73:09 - One of my students turned in a poem the other day and instead of– and it said ambled, which I was very excited about because the girl ambled in the poem.
73:20 - I was very proud of my student for that. So the last thing I wanted to say and then Susan wanted me to do this thing.
73:28 - And I’m not sure, let’s see if I can show y’all.
73:33 - The last thing that I had to say had to do with modifiers.
73:38 - Let me see if I can find– well, one way we can do this is– I can do it this way.
73:44 - Give me one second. I’m going to need sharing capabilities in a second if I don’t have them.
73:55 - OK. I’ll see if Rachel– let me see if I have to give that.
74:02 - And then once we do this thing I’m about to do right now I’ll take questions.
74:11 - I think I just did that, Deb. We’re good.
74:12 - Did you? OK, good, because I wasn’t sure where to find the share.
74:17 - Oh, yeah. Oh, page unresponsive. That’s not good.
74:22 - Let’s try this again. We can do it from here.
74:29 - We can use this. This is enough space.
74:31 - Does everybody see that? Mm-hmm. So one of the things that– I do have an exercise that I do around– oh, that’s not what I want.
74:42 - Something’s going on my own website. I’m doing this at the last minute to show y’all.
74:47 - One of the things that I do is I’ll give students a postcard that has an image on it, and I’ll tell them, and this is something you all can try, to take a sheet of paper, a normal size sheet of paper like this, and to fold the paper long ways, hot dog not sandwich.
75:07 - And on what would be your right, on the right of that paper, to make a list of nouns that you see.
75:18 - I usually tell them make me a list of 10 nouns.
75:21 - And given what we’re looking at now, those 10 nouns might be flowers, might be sea, or sky maybe, might be crown, might be face, but even more particularly might be eye or lips.
75:39 - And if you were to make that list, what I would do then is I would tell you on the left of that same page, so you have nouns on the right, on the left of that same page I want modifiers that somehow describe each one of those nouns.
76:02 - But you can’t use the color of a thing and you can’t use the size or shape of a thing.
76:11 - And because you can’t use the color or a size or a shape of a thing, you suddenly have to be original about what you see and you have to be able to give it story.
76:24 - So, for instance, what might we say, this is the part where we’re going to get a little more interactive, if y’all don’t mind– I’m sorry I picked the wrong thing to look at.
76:35 - What might we say is a modifier? I can’t see you, so maybe somebody can unmute and tell me.
76:40 - What might we say is a modifier for the word flower? Anyone? Fragrant.
76:54 - Fragrant. We might say fragrant flower.
76:56 - Somebody give me another modifier for the word flower.
76:58 - Delicate. Delicate. Very good.
77:03 - Somebody give me another modifier for the word flower.
77:06 - Transparent. Transparent. That’s a great, right? All right, let’s look at the eye.
77:14 - What might we do as a modifier for the word eye? [INTERPOSING VOICES] Would did you say? I said wet.
77:28 - Wet. Wet eye. Very good. Somebody else.
77:31 - I said– Perceiving. What’d you say, Jen? Oh, I said orb.
77:36 - OK. And I heard a man’s voice, I think.
77:39 - Perceiving. Perceiving. What else? Lucid.
77:43 - Lucid. Anybody else? Clouded.
77:47 - What? Clouded. Clouded eye.
77:51 - Right. What about this shirt? What might we do in order to modify the shirt? Linen.
78:01 - Linen shirt. Very good. What else? Drape.
78:11 - [INTERPOSING VOICES] What? Drape.
78:15 - What? Drape. Drape? D-R-A-P– drape.
78:19 - Draped shirt. What else? Protective.
78:21 - Cool. Cool. Protective shirt.
78:24 - Cool shirt. Very good. Very good.
78:26 - Those are all great. Those are all great.
78:28 - Now let’s just look at the grass only. Let’s look only at the grass.
78:32 - What might be a modifier we could use for the grass in this image? Blades.
78:39 - Yeah, but blades is a noun. We want a real adjective.
78:43 - [INTERPOSING VOICES] Huh? Crowded.
78:49 - Crowded. What else? [INTERPOSING VOICES] Fake grass.
78:54 - Fake. OK. Maybe I’m not hearing it right.
78:59 - I thought of heard fake, but maybe not. Yeah, it’s fake.
79:02 - OK. What else? Thick.
79:08 - Thick grass. Right. So what happens here is that you end up saying thick grass or fake grass.
79:20 - And those kinds of modifiers give me things to read in the poem.
79:27 - So if you tell me fake grass then as a reader I’m like, wait a minute, the grass was fake.
79:33 - And that already, in and of itself, has meaning.
79:36 - That sets your scene. That sets your stage.
79:39 - That’s part of what’s going to happen in terms of the content of your poem.
79:43 - What often happens with younger writers, or newer writers, I should say, is that people will say green grass.
79:51 - And the truth about us is that every time we think grass we think is green.
79:59 - Y’all live in Washington state. If I asked you what color is the sky you would most automatically think blue.
80:10 - Do y’all see what I’m saying? But blue sky is obvious in a poem.
80:17 - And so there are so many other ways that you can make that sky work for you.
80:21 - You can make a heavy sky. You can make a late sky.
80:27 - Do y’all understand what I mean? And then those modifiers are doing work.
80:33 - And so the final best practice I’ll give you and then I’ll take questions, is for you to come up if you either use no modifiers– which is not my advice.
80:45 - I think modifiers can be used in poems. A lot of teachers will tell you don’t use modifiers, which I think is just not the history of poetry.
80:53 - But if you look at poems and you look at the modifiers, Lucille Clifton is actually very good at this, if you look at the modifiers poets are using it’s always a modifier that changes your idea of the now.
81:06 - And that’s what we want to do, we want to change the lens through which people see the world that we all see in common.
81:12 - So what I do when I write a poem, what I want to do when I talk about a tree in a poem, is make it such that whenever you see a tree again you have to see that tree made new in the real world.
81:24 - Everybody understand that? Any questions? Maybe I should take the questions I already had.
81:31 - Deborah, will you read them to me or should I scroll? No, that’s fine.
81:35 - Let me go back up here, because I was taking notes on best practices.
81:40 - So there was a question, and I’m not sure if Rhiannon still here, but one of our English and creative writing instructors asked, any tips and tricks to overcome writer’s block and/or when inspiration is lacking? Yeah.
81:57 - One trick is to write absolute nonsense. Fill up a page with nonsense.
82:04 - Fill up a page, not even a Microsoft Word document, a journal page.
82:10 - And stop when you get to the end of the page.
82:12 - Fill it up with nonsense. Say sentence after sentence.
82:16 - I give my students this thing, we call it, freewriting.
82:19 - They can’t pick up their hands. They can put something at the top of the page, peaches, and then write everything you know about peaches, all of your experiences with peaches.
82:27 - How do you feel about peaches? Do people know how much you love peaches? It’s usually good to have something at the top of the page you really care about or that really is driving you crazy.
82:37 - I give them 10 minutes. And at the end of the 10 minutes suddenly they don’t have writer’s block because they’ve written two or three pages about peaches.
82:44 - But the other thing that they’ve done is not write about peaches because I tell them they can’t pick their pens up.
82:49 - They’re not allowed to think. I say, write, don’t think.
82:53 - Don’t correct anything. Sometimes for whatever reason we’ll write H-T-E rather than T-H-E for the.
82:58 - Do y’all know what I mean? Let it go, girl.
83:01 - It’s OK. Keep going. When I say stop, you’ll see you have two or three pages.
83:06 - And when you look at that two or three pages, of course, yes, you’re going to have some sentences about peaches, but you will also have some sentences about things you did not expect to say.
83:18 - Use that to make your poem. Thank you.
83:25 - And then– Thank you so much. That’s the students’ most common question, how do you get over writer’s block? So thank you.
83:32 - That’s brilliant. Thank you. She’s going to apply that right in class.
83:38 - The next question is from Sam Zermeno. Jericho, what would a dream collaboration of yours be, however reality based, for future poetry art projects? I don’t know.
83:52 - Maybe this is a poetry art project, but what I would really– there used to be a television show in the very late 60s and early 70s called Soul!.
84:03 - S-O-U-L exclamation point. And because of the times it was a show that could work because it had very different kinds of people.
84:17 - In many ways it was a variety show, but a variety show of a certain kind of seriousness because the show would include religious leaders and boxers and dancers and singers and poets.
84:30 - Nikki Giovanni, as a matter of fact, did host the show a few times.
84:34 - And I think I would like to do something like that.
84:37 - I think I would like to host something like Soul! on television again, where I can bring together these very different people who would perform but also talk about the issues of the day.
84:50 - Thank you. I see Sam is still here so she got to hear her answer.
84:57 - And it looks like our next question was from another person named Sam but not the same person.
85:03 - Any advice for people who are new to poetry such as myself? Have a good time.
85:11 - Live. I mean that literally. Have a good time.
85:14 - Live. You have to live in order to have– that’s a best practice, too.
85:18 - Live as much as you can. Say yes as often as you possibly can, especially while you’re young because there comes a point at which you have to learn to say no.
85:27 - But say yes. When I was a young person, I saw a poet, Nikki Giovanni, again, she came to my undergraduate school and somebody asked her, what is your advice for writers? And she said, always say yes.
85:37 - And so I’ve been saying yes ever since. And the more you say yes, the more you have experiences about which to write.
85:46 - True. And then, let’s see, the last question that I’ve got from somebody, and then we can see if there’s more or we can talk in general, from Jen, who introduced you, in your interviews you talk about the importance of being vulnerable, how did you become comfortable with talking about your life experiences and vulnerability? This is a great question.
86:08 - And I meant to say this actually when I was talking about be bold, be bold, lose your mind.
86:16 - Part of the reason what I like to call that being bold is that the other option scares people to death and that is be vulnerable.
86:23 - The truth about being bold in poetry really just means having vulnerability.
86:29 - You have to be vulnerable to the poem and, quite literally, lose yourself to it in many ways.
86:36 - And that means you have to be willing to try at things that might fail you.
86:44 - And you have to be OK with failing. Do you know what I mean? But I just don’t think there are any failures.
86:54 - I think you feel failure in the moment, but the truth about being a poet, and I really do believe this, if you write 10 poems that don’t work, that is just fine because it is impossible for you to write 10 poems without having 10 good lines.
87:13 - If you wrote 10 poems and all of them don’t work, you find the 10 lines you have in those 10 poems and you put those 10 lines on a Microsoft Word document, you start moving those lines around, you will end up with a poem because the line is the unit.
87:31 - So I also think becoming vulnerable really happens by way of practice, by way of discipline.
87:40 - There’s nothing around us. There’s nothing about our world, about our nation, about the billboards, about our social media, about the commercials, about our relationships as they are now, that really encourages vulnerability.
87:53 - And yet, we understand you don’t get to fall in love unless you’re vulnerable.
87:58 - You can’t. People are real anti-vulnerability and everybody wants to fall in love.
88:04 - Everybody wants to be safe, but everybody wants to fall in love.
88:13 - You don’t get both. And when I say fall in love, I mean literal love.
88:19 - I mean that thing that, and you all know this, y’all know that there are people– there’s somebody today who is visiting Massachusetts who’s going to meet someone in Massachusetts.
88:31 - That person visiting Massachusetts lives in California.
88:35 - Four months from now, that person that they met today will be moving to California to be with them.
88:44 - And nobody’s going to think that’s strange.
88:46 - Do y’all see what I mean? And that’s because that person is willing to take the risk, willing to be vulnerable.
88:56 - And it became clear to me that in my own poems I would have to be willing to take the risk, be willing to be vulnerable for the sake of the poems.
89:05 - Yes, that’s scary because I didn’t know how I was going to come out of that.
89:08 - I was like, oh, I might have all these poems and I’ll still be, what, vulnerable? Who wants that? Do you know what I mean? But what ended up happening was I gained strength because, as I was mentioning earlier, I quite literally learned from my poems.
89:22 - I therefore become a more whole and a more independent person.
89:26 - A person more certain of myself. Because as I’m writing my poems they’re teaching me how to live.
89:32 - They’re telling me what I didn’t know that I knew.
89:35 - So I hope that answers you, Jen. Thank you so much for answering that.
89:42 - Thank you. Oh, also, it’s a good idea not to take your family to work.
89:49 - You wouldn’t take your family to work for any other job you have.
89:54 - I don’t know why it is poets want to show their wife, their daughter, their mom, their dad, [INAUDIBLE] husband [INAUDIBLE].
90:00 - They want to show everybody their poem. Don’t show everybody your poems.
90:04 - That’s a setup, especially if you know– and you should know your family.
90:10 - If you know somebody hasn’t been supportive, do not give them the opportunity to be unsupportive yet again.
90:17 - You already know who’s ready to say no to you.
90:24 - Why are you running them down trying to show them the poem that’s going to make yet another divide in your family? Don’t do it.
90:33 - Don’t take your family to work. When your book comes out, you do not have to give your family members your poetry book as a gift.
90:43 - You don’t have to do that. Everybody’s all worried like, oh, what is my mom going to say when she reads my book? Your mom reads poetry books? Who’s your mom, Jorie Graham? You know what I’m saying? If your mom is not Susan Rich or Jorie Graham, don’t worry.
91:05 - She will not see your book, honey. Do y’all think my parents have read The Tradition? They have not.
91:14 - The Tradition won the Pulitzer Prize. I was on the cover of the Shreveport Times.
91:22 - Do you think that made my parents read my book? No.
91:26 - They read no books about the Bible all year.
91:28 - And they’re just fine with that. And I am, too.
91:34 - I’m not struggling with my parents to read more poetry.
91:36 - That’s not where I need to be proselytizing poetry.
91:40 - Do y’all understand what I’m saying? Do not create barriers between yourself in your work.
91:49 - Make yourself free to do your work. One thing, if you’re going to a party and you know somebody who’s a downer, you don’t bring them to the party.
92:00 - Don’t bring downers to the party. They’ll catch up.
92:04 - Let them catch up later. They will catch up.
92:06 - Thank you. I love that you’re making me laugh so much.
92:17 - We have about five minutes left. Is there any final question or, Jericho, do you want to leave us with any final thought, anything that you always feel like you want to end with? No, I could probably leave by reading a poem, because I didn’t get to read a duplex.
92:32 - And I should. Since we have five minutes, they take about a minute to read, so I’ll read two.
92:38 - [INTERPOSING VOICES] Goodbye to y’all.
92:39 - I really appreciate y’all having me here, and I’m glad we finally got a chance to make it happen.
92:44 - The duplex is a form that I invented. I think of it as a form that is at once a [? ghazal, ?] a sonnet, and a blues poem.
92:53 - And I think you’ll hear those elements come through.
92:56 - There are many of them in my latest book, The Tradition.
92:59 - I’ve written a few since then. But I’ll read two of them for you now and then Duplex.
93:07 - “I begin with love, hoping to end there. I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.
93:15 - I don’t want to leave a messy corpse full of medicines that turn in the sun.
93:21 - Some of my medicines turn in the sun. Some of us don’t need hell to be good.
93:28 - Those who need most, need hell to be good. What are the symptoms of your sickness? Here is one symptom of my sickness: men who love me are men who miss me.
93:43 - Men who leave me are men who miss me in the dream where I am an island.
93:49 - In the dream where I am an island, I grow green with hope.
93:54 - I’d like to end there. “ And I’ll read the last duplex in the book, which is also the last poem in the book, which is also not– I talked about the formal concerns of the duplex.
94:07 - The other thing that I didn’t mention when I talked about what a duplex is that I wanted it to be sort of an amalgamation of these other forms.
94:15 - So thinking about it in that way, I made each line 9 to 11 syllables.
94:20 - So in that way it marries East and West. It’s not exactly iambic pentameter, but it does move forward with syllabics in ways.
94:30 - Many of traditions from the East move forward in syllabics rather than meter.
94:35 - This poem is also a cento, which is, I mentioned before, a poem that takes all its lines from other poems, and it’s a cento using all of the lines from the other duplexes in the book.
94:48 - Duplex: Cento. “My last love drove a burgundy car, color of a rash, a symptom of sickness.
94:59 - We were the symptoms, the road our sickness: none of our fights ended where they began.
95:08 - None of the beaten end where they began. Any man in love can cause a messy corpse, but I didn’t want to leave a messy corpse obliterated in some lilied field, stench obliterating lilies of the field, the murderer, young and unreasonable.
95:28 - He was so young, so unreasonable, steadfast and awful, tall as my father.
95:35 - Steadfast and awful, my tall father was my first love.
95:41 - He drove a burgundy car. “ Thank you all so much.
95:45 - Thank y’all for having me. Thank you.
95:47 - Thanks for coming, Kelly. So kind. [INTERPOSING VOICES] Thank you.
95:51 - Thank you, Monica. Thank you. We really, really appreciate– You’re fun to listen to you.
95:55 - Thank you. Thank you. Breathtaking.
95:59 - Thank you. Inspiring. Thank you.
96:03 - [INTERPOSING VOICES] Give a big round of applause for Jericho as if we were actually in a room together.
96:08 - [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Jericho. Thank you.
96:20 - Thank you so much. Thank you. Y’all stay safe all day.
96:23 - I’ll talk to y’all– [INTERPOSING VOICES] Take care.