Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Poetic Trilogy: Jericho Brown, Phillip B. Williams & Rickey Laurentiis

I first met Jericho Brown, Phillip B. Williams, and Rickey Laurentiis in the fall of 2012 here in St. Louis. Treasure Shields Redmond was hosting a group of poets and visual artists at her house and asked me to stop by. Among other things, Treasure is a connector, and so here she was connecting writers.

I had been reading Jericho for years, but this was the first time I met him in person. I immediately understood why he's loved by everyone who knows him. He has a big personality, and at the same time, he's really attentive to you--the person he's talking with at a given moment or the person among the people who's reading for.

Oh, and put Treasure and Jericho in a room together, you might as well hold on, because they about to take you there. They'll telling stories and talking smack and laughing and moving around the room, and telling more stories and laughing more.    

In addition to various other artists, Treasure also introduced me to two graduate student poets from Washington University--Phillip and Rickey. I had already heard of them from poet Adrian Matejka. He always has his ear to the ground on new and emergent poets, and in one of our many conversations, he'd mentioned  two poets from Washington University to look for--Phillip and Rickey. Here they were.

Later all the poets read some of their poems. They almost all read from pieces that they had stored on their phones. After each poet read, Jericho served as everyone's hype man, offering shouting affirmations for what the writers had shared.

Rickey earned a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship in 2012, and Phillip earned the fellowship in 2013. In 2014, Rickey earned the Cave Canem Poetry Prize.

I thought back on that gathering at Treasure's place, as I recently began considering the ways Jericho Brown's The New Testament (2014), Rickey Laurentiis's Boy with Thorn (2015), and Phillip B. Williams's Thief in the Interior (2016). I was also wondering if I had unknowingly heard bits and pieces of these books as the poets read that evening back in 2012. Maybe. Maybe not.

Either way, I'm excited to think about their works individually and then in conversation. I'm also thankful, in retrospect, that I got a chance to hear them, which now allows their voices to accompany me as I read their books.   

Jericho Brown takes you there in #BlackPoetsSpeakOut

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