Written by Jasey Roberts
On Mar. 3, acclaimed Pulitzer-prize winning poet Jericho Brown visited the Roanoke College student body via Zoom to read some of his collected poetry and answer a brief Q&A. Brown, an associate professor of English and the director of the Creative Writing program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, is the author of three books: “Please” (published by New Issues Poetry and Prose in 2008), “The New Testament” (published by Copper Canyon Press in 2014 and referred to by Brown as “the book with the title my mother hated”) and, most recently, “The Tradition,” which won him the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in early 2020.
Brown’s work is as beautiful as it is devastating – focusing on queerness, blackness, whiteness and our current political moment, as well as touching on issues such as rape, domestic violence and police brutality. Despite the heavy subject matter of many of the poems found within “The Tradition,” Jericho Brown is himself a warm, loving person with a passion for speaking to people about poetry. He recommended reading all kinds of poets, from John Milton to Langston Hughes.
When asked about advice for young writers, Brown said, “I would say, ‘Say yes.’ If you have an inkling to do something, do it. Live as much as you can possibly live, and then, on the other side of that, read as much as you can possibly read. The living will give you things to write about, and the reading will teach you how to write about it. And when you read, read for strategy. There’s this thing that happens to us where we read a poem and we are knocked out by it, and we go to write a poem, and all we have is this feeling. And so therefore we sit down and write a bunch of abstractions, which are not useful to the making of poetry, per se. When you read the poem, you want to figure out why – beyond its subject matter or its form – what happened to make it wear you out? What happened to make it make you feel?”