Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Notebook on Jericho Brown

• March 20: "Oldest of the young poets": On Jericho Brown, Elizabeth Alexander, and crucial connectors
• March 19: Jericho Brown's 3 books and 132 poems
• March 18: Notations on Jericho Brown's The Tradition

• March 21: Reginald Harris, Jericho Brown, Tee-Tee, Keyshawn, and 'N'em 
• February 20: A Poetic Trilogy: Jericho Brown, Phillip B. Williams & Rickey Laurentiis

• December 7: Jericho Brown takes you there in #BlackPoetsSpeakOut

• October 2: Natasha Trethewey, Kevin Young, Jericho Brown, and the Emory model 

An Extended Notebook on the works of writers, artists & cultural workers

Haley Reading Group: “The New Harpoon”

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2017)]

Tom Kizzia retells the story of Tariek Ovuik in his hometown Point Hope fleeing from dangerous rising water. Ovuik recounts the near-death experience and relates it to the shifts in climate change.

Kizzia works to relay Point Hope and places like it affected by oil drilling and the history of how the practice occurred (80). This article points out the danger in climate change caused by government involvement for oil.

There's been increasing discussion of climate change and government involvement over the years. What's one useful way this article expanded or deepened your knowledge on the subject?

"Oldest of the young poets": On Jericho Brown, Elizabeth Alexander, and crucial connectors

"I maintain my position," Jericho Brown recently tweeted, "as the oldest of the young poets." Something about the comment is comical, in part because Brown frequently makes humorous remarks on Twitter. On the other hand, the comment speaks to the ongoing generational shifts and identifications among all writers, and especially among black writers.

During the 1920s, a group of writers announced themselves as representative of "the New Negro," though today they are more frequently referred to as contributors to the Harlem Renaissance. During the late 1960s, a group of writers announced themselves as "new" black poets and contributed to what we now commonly refer to as the Black Arts Movement.

These days, it's common to read coverage on the emergence of this and that new or young group of poets. Many of these young poets are in their late 20s and early 30s, hence Brown proclaims himself as the oldest among them. Back in 2008 with his debut Please, Brown was regularly introduced as one of the new, young important voices. More than a decade later with this third book The Tradition, he's at a different place in his career but still maintaining his position, as he noted.   

In sectors of black culture, we often talk with reverence of our elders. Because the elders age too, then what it means to be young can extend. In 2004, Eugene B. Redmond introduced me to Katherine Dunham at her 95th birthday party. Redmond laughed at me as he told Dunham how "young" I was, but then she in turn laughed at him when he revealed that he was 67. "Only 67? Talk to me when you're older," she said to him. "You haven't really lived until you're 75."

In a room full of emergent poets, Brown is looked up to as an experienced and even older writer. Place him in a room with Redmond, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and others, and they'd view him as a talented young writer. Oldest of the young poets!

Remember that New York Times piece on black men writers? People debated the idea of placing only a group of black men on the cover. Looking back, I wish there was more discussion of how intergenerational the gathering was.

One of the alternate covers from the shoot shows Brown with George C. Wolfe, who's no a senior to the poet. On the other hand, Wolfe would be viewed as much younger by the octogenarian Ishmael Reed who was also featured.

In response to Brown's tweet, Elizabeth Alexander responded that, "there’s an important job in that position bridging generations." And hey, she know. I've long maintained that Alexander is one of our most crucial connectors from black arts era poets to the poets who emerged in the 1990s and 2000s. In related ways yet for a different generation, Brown too serves as one of our connectors, a crucial one.

A Notebook on Jericho Brown

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Jericho Brown's 3 books and 132 poems

As I was reading Jericho Brown's new volume The Tradition, I was looking back on his previous books. I was jotting down titles so decided to pull together a list of all 132 of his poems published in the 3 books.

The Tradition (2019)  -- 52 poems
As a Human Being
The Microscopes
The Tradition
After Another Country
The Water Lilies
Foreday in the Morning
The Card Tables
Bullet Points
The Trees
Second Language
After Avery R. Young
A Young Man
Good White People

Monday, March 18, 2019

Notations on Jericho Brown's The Tradition

On April 2, Jericho Brown will publish The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press), his third volume of poetry. Here, he offers many powerful, inventive poems. He displays considerable topical and artistic range, covering multiple subjects and doing so utilizing a variety of writing modes.

For me, the presence of poetic wisdom remains one of the most distinguishing features of Brown's work. Nearly everywhere you look in his poems, you encounter him, a speaker, or a key character presenting some thoughtful insight or a moving eloquent phrase. In one poem, "As a Human Being," he writes, "There is the happiness you have / And the happiness you deserve." Consequently, "they sit apart from each other."

There's this poem "Layover," where he notes that "Dallas is so / Far away / Even for the people / Who live  /In Dallas." In "After Avery R. Young," he writes, "All land owned is land once stolen."

What I'm saying is that a Jericho Brown book is a book full of critical knowledge, delivered to us in these delightful little packages that we call poems.

Over the years and continuing here with The Tradition, I've been able to depend on Brown as an important cultural witness. He's observing and remembering all kinds of things that resonate with my black southern sensibilities.

In "The Legend of Big and Fine," he writes "Long ago, we used two words for the worth of a house, a car, a woman--all the same to men who claimed them." The poem is a remembrance and critique. That is, it's a recollection of familiar word usage -- big and fine -- and at the same time commentary on the troublesome deployment of those terms in relation to what men possess.

Similar to in his previous volumes Please (2008) and The New Testament (2014), religion remains a crucial, recurring force throughout The Tradition. Christianity clearly supplies the poet with considerable cultural materials and insight. At the same time, he's an unruly believer -- questioning and offering alternative takes on supposed sacred concepts.

In "Deliverance," he notes that "I am not a saint." Instead, he'd rather be a particular kind of unforgettable sound--"something / You will remember / Once you've lived enough not to believe in heaven." In "The Microscopes," he reflects on using those instruments and learning "what little difference / God saw if God saw me."   

So there's this tension with religion in his writing that instills the work with seriousness, excitement, and surprises. He wants to be the sound of a gospel singer. He doesn't want to be a saint.

The creative contribution from The Tradition that will likely receive the most attention will be this form, the "duplex" that Brown created. The form "merges the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues" with "nine to eleven syllables a line." The 14-line poem contains repetitions and is comprised of 7 couplets. The third line echoes and alters the second. The fifth line echoes and alters the fourth, and so on. The third and fourth, seventh and eighth, and eleventh and twelfth are indented. The last line is a variation of the first.

Consider the first 4 couplets of his poem, "Duplex (I begin with love)":
I begin with love, hoping to end there.
I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.

            I don’t want to leave a messy corpse
            Full of medicines that turn in the sun.

Some of my medicines turn in the sun.
Some of us don’t need hell to be good.

            Those who need least, need hell to be good.
            What are the symptoms of your sickness?
There's much more to say about these duplex poems, which I'll do in a follow-up entry. For now, I'm fascinated by the kind of artistic imagination that comes up with a form like this. It's a mind that takes poetry play serious. It's an artist who absorbs and then alters. Like I said, there's much more to say.

What we have in this volume of poetry is a convergence of creative domains--black, queer, southern, Christian, and more. As it turns out, Jericho Brown is writing within and beyond our sense of tradition. 

A Notebook on Jericho Brown

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Notes on a black actors and actresses dataset

As part of the project that I'm working on, I constructed a dataset based on black actors and actresses. Here's a rundown of some info I noticed while looking through the data:

• 50 black men and 50 black women
• Birth years are from 1893 - 2003
• 30 of the actors were born prior to 1960; 70 of the actors were born after 1960
• Largest concentration of actor birth years is from 1965 - 1975 (38 actors)
• The top 4 cities of birth: New York City (15),  Los Angeles (10), Chicago (6), London (6)
• The actor with the most appearances -- Samuel L. Jackson (120)

The dataset encompasses:
• 2,700 films, released from 1932 through 2018
• 2,175 films that include only one of the 100 actors.
• 525 films that include two of the 100 actors.
• 161 films that include three of the 100 actors.
• 2 films -- Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Black Panther (2018) -- that include 9 of the 100 actors.
• The year with the most releases was 2013 with 117 films

In a Dataset of Their Own: comparisons of black artists & black artists

Haley Reading group: The Intuitionist, 105 - 140

[The Intuitionist (1999)]

We're still moving ahead with Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist.

There's this moment in the story where Lila Mae is having some thoughts about how others perceive her.
She thinks, these white men see her as a threat but refuse to make her a threat, cunning, duplicitous. They see her as a mule, ferrying information back and forth, not clever or curious enough to explore the contents. Brute. Black (122)
The presentation of her thoughts there always stood out to me, as it gives voice to the ways people often underestimate the intellectual capabilities of a black person, in this case a black woman. In just a few sentences, Whitehead highlights that important idea.

Within what we've read between pages 105 - 140, what was a scene that really caught your attention or stood out in some way? Briefly explain why, and provide the page number citation.

Haley Reading Group "Down by the River"

[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015)]

In "Down by the River," Rowan Jacobsen details the struggle in resurrecting the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge program to bring access to water to the Quechan reservation. Jacobsen states that the Quechan tribe lost access to the Colorado River and the resources it provided to their lives due to the formation of dams and canals (92).

Jacobsen describes the multiple steps taken to re-invent in the program through the history of its creation and recent local citizens demand for access to the water. The article describes the injustice that construction and lack of access to resources creates.

What does now knowing the history of the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge program mean to you? That is, what does it inspire you to think about or even do that you might not have prior to reading the article?