On International Women’s day, students at the University of Connecticut listened to poems about relationships, violence and sexuality by Jericho Brown, a fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts.
“When you’re a young writer, you’re like, ‘what’s going to happen? Why am I doing this, and why is my dad mad at me? Maybe I could go to law school,” Brown said, drawing laughs from the audience. “It is not lost on me that today is International Women’s day. The month of March is a very interesting month for gender at UConn, and I’m sure that’s why I was asked to come.”
Brown presented his poetry not only as literature, but as part of an experience.
“Y’all ready?”, he asked the audience before he began reading.
Brown read his poems with passion and enthusiasm, emphasizing words and speaking in different voices to convey feelings and images to the audience. The first poem Brown read focused on relationships, including domestic violence and the effect it has on children.
“Listen, and you can hear them, in the next room, planning…for the youngest, and then making love, loud enough for the oldest to learn,” Brown read.
Poems about relationships and gender were only a fragment of what Brown read from at the reading. Some poems, Brown explained, were dedicated to people who had died in a variety of circumstances.
“This next poem is written in honor of and in memory of a list of people that’s much too long, a list of people who I wish I could narrow down. It’s funny how, when you go searching for something, you find out that things were worse than you even thought they were,” Brown said before reading a poem about suicide, death and police brutality.
That poem in particular became a grim reflection of American society, listing the most common ways Americans died.
“When I kill me, I will kill me the way most American do. I promise you, cigarette smoke or a piece of meat on which I choke…I promise that if you hear of me dead anywhere near a cop, that cop killed me. He took me from us,” Brown read.
Going back to the poets and writer that inspired him to become a poet, Brown explained how he first fell in love with poetry as a small child.
“The poet I always think of as my first poet, and we say that in the same way we say first love or first kiss. When I was a little kid and came across these poems in the library, it felt like I was falling in love,” Brown said of Langston Hughes.
Although he drew from a variety of poets for inspiration, Brown admitted that sometimes he wrote poems because writing about that subject would make him a “real” poet.
“The most I can say about this poem is that a poet once told me until you write a Persephone poem, and this is my attempt at dealing with Persephone so I can become a real poet,” Brown said.
Despite the use of affected voices and tones to emphasize parts of his poetry, Brown maintained that he attempted to read every poem normally, and any deviation is outside his control.
“I try to read them straight, but maybe I’m too black for that,” Brown said. “What does it mean to speak straight? That’s completely changed.”
Students were overwhelmingly pleased with the reading, calling it “moving.”
“I thought it was really, really good. I think his poems were moving, and it felt a bit like church,” Ricardo Alvelo, a sixth semester English major said.
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.