The Porch Welcomes poet Jericho Brown

Our spring intern, Kelsey Beyeler, shares some thoughts on reading visiting poet Jericho Brown’s THE TRADITION. Please come out to hear Jericho read along with Destiny Birdsong, and along with musical performances by Jason Eskridge and John Shakespear, on May 4 at Analog at the Hutton Hotel! -Ed.

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Jericho Brown is a poet, professor, activist, and self-described “victim of life.” His testimony to these roles shows up in his writing, which has netted him an impressive list of literary accomplishments including a Whiting Writers' Award and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Brown’s first book of poetry, Please, was awarded the 2009 American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament, won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was acknowledged as one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal, and the Academy of American Poets. His newest collection, The Tradition, was released in early April. Of it, Maya Phillips wrote in the New York Times that “Brown creates poetry that is a catalog of injuries past and present, personal and national, in a country where blackness, particularly male blackness, is akin to illness.” Many influential voices have spoken to Jericho’s contributions to contemporary poetry. Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen, says, “To read Jericho Brown’s poetry is to encounter devastating genius.”

Brown’s perspective is powerful--and it isn’t always pleasant, or comfortable. As a straight, white reader, my encounter with his poems left me wondering: Where does my opinion fit in with all of this? I realized all I could do was read the poems and pay close attention to how they made me feel. When I couldn’t relate personally to a poem, I just sat back and listened to what it had to say. In doing this I was able to experience a new voice that’s never lived inside my head, and therefore see the world from a new perspective that helped broaden my own. The Tradition made me feel and think deeply on the topics of racism, masculinity, and sexual identity.

Though Brown may be writing from a place that is different from my own, ultimately we are all connected, and his writing showed me that, too. Poems like “Bullet Points” and Entertainment Industry” create a space where we, as Americans, can ruminate on our nation’s scars, and mourn the wounds that are still open. The Tradition helped deepen my understanding that we are all connected as sons and daughters, siblings, victims, survivors and lovers, no matter our backgrounds and orientations. The poems coaxed unexpected emotions out of me, and forced me to acknowledge them, even when it was uncomfortable.

On May 4th, Brown wlll host a poetry workshop for The Porch titled “Jumpstart Your Engines” in which he will help students generate new work through a set of unconventional exercises that keep our ears open and our fingers moving. This workshop is cosponsored by our friends at Vanderbilt’s Curb Center. Later that night, he will join poet Destiny Birdsong, and musical talents Jason Eskridge and John Shakespear, to read from his new collection. The event will take place at Analog at the Hutton Hotel, and you can click here to reserve your spot.

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A Poem by Anders Carlson-Wee

We're thrilled to have Anders Carlson-Wee teaching a poetry workshop for us this weekend. Here's one of his poems to whet your appetite for the class, "Narrative Poetry: Story & Image," which meets Saturday, Mar. 7, from 2 - 5 pm. Seats still available! Register and learn more here


Northern Corn


Traveling alone through Minnesota

as the corn comes in. Steel silos filling

to the brim. Black trees leaning

off the south sides of hills as the cold light

falls slantwise against the gristmills.

You have allowed another year to pass.

You have learned very little.

But that little is what you are throwing

in the furnace. That little is stoking the dust-

coals of last year and burning something.

Burning blue. The ninety-year-old father

is bringing his crop in. He climbs

off the thresher, checks the engine,

moves an oak branch. He pours

rye whiskey from a thermos and sips

the lidless excess of his private noon.

The size of his hands. The size of one finger.

The flathead prairie of his calloused

thumb-pad. He lies awake in the middle

of the night and whispers something

and suddenly loves his son again.

The way excess falls through him.

The way oil runs down the Mississippi River

and remains on the surface and burns.

The father no longer breathing.

The respirator breathing. The father lying

in a hospital bed in a nightgown.

The plastic tubes and machinery.

The whole hospital breathing.

The janitor waxing the white-tile floors

at midnight while life is trying hard

to leave. You must go to your father

while he is still your father.

You must hold him. You must kiss him.

You must listen. You must see the son

in the father and wonder. You must admit

that you wonder. Stand above him

and wonder. Drop his swelled-up hand.

Whisper something. Now unplug the machine.


“Northern Corn” originally appeared in Best New Poets 2012


Anders Carlson-Wee is a 2015 NEA Fellow. He is the winner of Ninth Letter's 2014 Poetry Award and New Delta Review's 2014 Editors' Choice Prize. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in New England Review, The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, West Branch, Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Linebreak, Best New Poets 2012 and 2014, and elsewhere. A recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and the Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Residency Fellowship, Anders is currently an MFA candidate at Vanderbilt University.