Support for on being with Krista Tippett comes from the Fetzer Institute, helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Fatso's new study. What does spirituality mean to us? Reveals how spirituality informs our understanding of ourselves and each other and inspires us to take action for the common good. Explore these findings and more at spirituality study, Doug. Jericho Brown is beloved in the world of poetry and education now his book, The Tradition, has won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
We had an audience of Newark High School students for this conversation, which ranged from the proximity of violence and love, the complexity each of us is, and small truths and the surprises they bring. Plus, it was fun to read Jericho's own words back to him. Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it all.
Creative people got so creative people out there. Yes, the God. I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Jericho Brown is associate professor and the director of the creative writing program at Emory University. We recorded our conversation on stage at the 2013 Geraldine Artaud Festival, where we were introduced by the Dodge Foundation's program director, Martin Ferrol. So here's some of what Martin wrote to first wrote to us in the invitation he sent to be part of this, he said, I think poetry evolved to save us from ourselves.
It questions our understanding of what it means to be human and in the process deepens our humanity.
History teaches us and the Daily News reminds us how easily we forget what it means to be human. Probably no other art form is better than poetry at getting us directly inside another's mind, experience, perspective.
The ability to imagine someone else's inner life is where compassion begins. And he said we could certainly use more of that nowadays.
Amen. I have also personally grateful for this invitation because it has introduced me to Jericho Brown, to his person and his poetry.
I have some poems that I think that I've marked, but if you in the course of the next hour, just feel called to stand up and read a particular poem, you are warmly invited to do so. I have to stand up. No, you can say you can.
You grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. Mm hmm.
So I began many of my conversations with a question about the religious or spiritual background of someone's early life, their childhood, and also the the origins of the passions and questions that drive them.
Yeah. And it seemed to me as I started exploring you that.
Some of the convergence of your story of growing up in church in the Black Baptist Church and and also what becoming a poet meant to you, some of that story wrapped up in the name you chose as an adult, that Jericho is not the name you were born with. And I wonder if you would reflect on that. Do you think that's true to say that those things come together in your name? Maybe so.
I think one thing that I love about. Being a poet is that I know that I was prepared for it in every way possible.
And one of the ways that I was prepared for it is growing up in a black church. And when I say growing up in a black church, I mean people.
Really went all the way toward pageantry and toward drama and everything and toward what they were going to wear and everything they could possibly give it, they gave to being in that moment and the energy in that church, the energy in that sanctuary was always high and everyone was aware that they were doing it, that the energy was high energy because we were making it high energy with our song, with the way we spoke, with the way we moved.
Many of you been to churches or and you know that when you go to a black church, there is no I mean, hello is hello.
And how are you this morning? No, everything was so grand. Right.
And you know, a song where the note is turns in a ha, you know, it's like always a little something more where everything is being given an individual life. This is what my individual self is bringing to it.
And and when I change my name, I didn't really think about it in a religious way, although obviously the name is is biblical.
You wonder what that makes up for you.
But I, I was thinking about something that I do associate with the church when I was thinking about the other night, how I never had the problem. People have this problem where they're like afraid to write about their family. But I always understood that in my poems, if I were to be writing about the father because of because of the subject matter of my poems. If I say father, I'm not just talking about my dad. I'm also talking about that father God that I was taught in church.
And if I say father, that also would have resonance with fatherland and motherland, thinking about America, thinking about the continent of Africa. That is unknown to me in so many ways, and yet a part of me culturally.
And so I when I first started publishing my poems, they came under the name Nelson Demery, the third Qiyao believe that.
And your father was Nelson Demora this June the Gernot Second. And you know my dad, my grandfather was senior and when I would see my poems come out they didn't feel like they were, I wanted them to be mine. Yeah.
And so me changing my name had a lot to do with like I was saying, trying to be the individual that emerges within the community.
And do I understand it correctly also that that you change your name when you started writing, really pouring yourself more deeply into sensitive things like your relationship with your father. Yeah. Your earthly father and also with with being gay. And.
Yeah, well, I don't think I didn't when when I was first writing, I wanted more than anything to be able to give all of myself to my poems.
And I don't know if I would think that I had to do this now, but at the time I really believed I had to completely transform in order to do that. Adrienne Rich talks about this.
And when we did awaken writing his revision, one of my favorite essays, please read it if you haven't. Langston Hughes talks about this in The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. T.S. Eliot talks about this in tradition, in the individual talent. And it's it's this idea that whatever we're writing. We have to be free, you have to have your access in the midst of writing all of your memories, all of your knowledge, all of your beliefs and all of those things could get turned on their head that what you thought was most valuable comes into question.
And you have to be willing to go there while you're writing a poem. It's a very dangerous place to be. It's the reason why if I'm on an airplane and somebody asks me what I do for a living, I very quickly tell them I'm a poet, then I don't have to worry about them talking to me anymore.
You know what I'm saying? Yeah, yeah. Because people intuitively or instinctively people know, oh, you're dangerous. You're hugely problematic.
You're asking yourself questions that I've been avoiding my whole life. And you think that's a good time.
Do you do you understand what I'm saying?
So so me giving myself that name was a way for me to become somebody who wasn't connected to anything that would say to me that I shouldn't be doing what I was doing and I needed to be who I am now.
I needed to be Jericho Brown because I needed to have that freedom named. And that's what I was going to call that freedom was Jericho.
So there's a there's a poem. Called our father, like father, like father. Yeah, yeah, yeah, OK, there was me like transposes in my Baptist childhood onto the title. I know that's what happens. Yeah. Would you read that one?
Yeah. Like father. My father's embrace is tighter now that he knows he is not the only man in my life. He whispers Remember when and I love you as he holds my hand hungry for a discussion of Bible scriptures over breakfast, he pours cups of coffee.
I can't stop spilling.
My father's embrace is firm and warm. And now that he knows he begs forgiveness for anything he may have done to make me turn to abomination. As he watches my eggs scrambled, soft yolk runs all over the plate. A rubber band binds the morning paper. My father's embrace tightens, grits stiffen.
I hug back like a little boy gripping to prove his handshake. Daddy squeezes me close, but I cannot feel his heartbeat and he cannot hear mine. There is too much flesh between us. Two men in love. I feel like something that you that you reveal and work with in your poetry, and it was certainly and that is kind of the essence and I don't know whose phrase this was it.
Your bits where tenderness meets violence, where where love meets meets alienation. And yet they're both in the same room at the same time and in the same bodies and in the same bodies touching. Hmm.
Well, you know, most of my all of my work seems to go back to this place where love and brutality somehow come together.
And when I say that, people are like, no, they don't love and brutality, don't come together, not in the abstract.
But, you know, all you got to do is have kids or a parent.
And you actually do know what it's like to feel like, oh, I could actually kill you, but I'm not because I love you.
Do you know what I mean?
We put ourselves through huge inconveniences that there are like certain kinds of violence when we fall in love.
You know, is there somebody in this room who's driven from Massachusetts to California to see somebody for two days? I'm willing. I know somebody in this room has done that. Do you know what I mean? And so I'm sort of interested in where love goes awry or where people use violence as an excuse for love.
And I'm interested in seeing how that comes out in my poems because it's where I can keep asking myself questions is something that I don't understand.
And I think poems are better built out of what we don't understand. Right. What we do already know, but what we're trying to figure out and better understand.
Yeah, and that's an interesting way to say. And they let what we don't understand. They let that be in the room, they let that be real, and they don't contain that urgency, that when you know the ways we converse and discuss and are in dialogue beyond poetry, there's this compulsion to solve it.
Right, or to simplify it. Or then if we can't do either one of those things to move away, poetry lets you stay present to that with the discomfort. Yeah. But also with the mystery of it.
Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, it's part of actually what we're doing. Well, this is part of why people have a hard time with meditation, because to to truly be in the mode of meditation, you can't have judgment on a thought.
You just look at the thought. You can't have judgment on a pain in the body. You just look at the pain of the body and you sort of register things without saying, oh, this is good or this is bad. It just is. And then I think you come away from that thinking, oh, well, it must be good, because here I still say, oh, do you know what I mean?
Yeah. Yeah. Or and also I can survive this. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I mean, poems have to make our lives clear. Poems have to make our lives real on the page. And nobody's living an easy life. Nobody's living a life that is anything other than complex.
And there are things about our lives that TV's not going to give us. The movies even are not going to give us any poems or where I go for that. That's where I go for the complexity that the thing in us that that we don't really understand.
How would you act like that? Why would you say that thing? Why how could you commit that evil?
Right. You know, everybody every murderer has got a mama, you know, but we don't like to think about them. That's true. They came from somewhere. So that's that's the kind of thing I'm interested in.
Hmm. Yeah. Um, I feel like you are a natural born conversationalist.
Oh, I said this to you because you're easy. I'm not worried. I mean, I feel like I when I was I was getting ready to interview you and I was looking at other interviews you've given and and I felt like we could just sit down out here and I could say hi and then we could go for an hour before. And you were also a speechwriter for the mayor of New Orleans.
But so I was trying to figure out, like, how do we you know, how do we focus this? And and I found this piece, this interview you did in the Kenyon Review to remember this. And they had asked you at the end they wanted to talk about what would your credo be, what core beliefs do you have about literature and books?
And you gave it was a beautiful, beautiful answer. And I just want to pull a couple of those out. And this very much follows on what you were just saying. Although, you know, the word you didn't use is we haven't mentioned the word politics now. And here's something you said. Every love, every poem is a love poem. Every poem is a political poem.
So say the master's. Every love poem is political.
Every political poem must fall in love. You also said you can't love me if you don't love politically.
Yeah, yeah. So tell us, tell us and tell you how to love me.
Yeah. Know, tell us. Take us inside this very know.
I mean I just, I think I'm interested in all of people and there's something in us that wants to really take people down to some sort of census report I guess. And I'm not interested in census reports.
I'm interested in how you got here today and how you managed to do your makeup in the car in order to do it. Like, I'm I'm interested in that. Do you know what I mean? I'm interested in the fact that you got two kids and you're getting married and now you're pregnant and you're going to have another kid and you're trying to figure out how these kids are going to call each other sister and brother. Like I'm interested in that.
I'm not interested in this idea that everybody sort of is only an identity. And I'm definitely not interested in this idea that there are blank issues like women's issues or black issues. Right. If you are really good at hurting black people, you will indeed hurt the environment, I promise you, if it's true.
If you are really good at hurting women, you're probably also interested in war, I promise you.
Do you understand what I mean?
So so I, I it's I don't know why we think in order to make narratives that somehow help us politically, we have to take people down to some kind of identity as if that identity does not encapsulate the entirety of humanity and the entirety of humanity's needs. Someone to save. If you love me, you have to love me politically. You know, it's easy to know Jericho Brown because, you know, I'm cool. Hey, I thought, you know what I mean?
But I have a history. I have an ancestry. And you got to take all of that when if you're coming with me. That's what we're taking with us. Right. And I'm going to take that that part of you as well. And I think if we could just love each other a little more whole, we all would be a lot better off.
So, I mean, that's that's what I'm that's what I want my poems to point to my right.
It makes me think of I've sometimes interviewed you know, I interview a lot of scientists.
You talk to physicists and people who work with mathematics and they say, you know, this thing we learn in school is and I can see you're saying, where are you going with this? Yeah, OK. But like so this thing we learn in school is arithmetic and it's it's equations.
And that's not, you know, the people who work in mathematics helping us understand the nature of the cosmos and help create all this technology we use. They say there's mathematical thinking that is so thrilling. Yes. That is such a thrilling part of the human enterprise. And that's not offered to us. And I kind of feel like what you're doing is poetic thinking.
Yes, I hope so. Yeah. So so it's not just a way of writing, it's a way of approaching something like putting love in politics. Yes, yes. Yes.
And being honest about those things.
You know, people are people keep looking for this pure poetry and people have these questions about the political poems as if poems were ever not political. I mean, as far as I know, the Iliad and The Odyssey are about the war, right?
I mean, and from and from that point on, poems ask us to find a place where we can absolutely rupture within ourselves. And I know nothing more political than asking yourself questions, asking yourself, am I right about that idea or am I really messed up? That's I mean, that's ultimately what it comes down to.
And you have to take all of history and bring it down to one one individual oneself in order to do that.
I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being Today with the poet Jericho Brown. You were diagnosed with HIV, is that right? A thousand years ago, a thousand years a life.
I know, but you did. Yeah, you did write a poem about that to be seen. You want me to read it? You are asking me to read it.
You were going to ask me about it? Well, both. You can reverse or talk about it first.
I'll just read it and then you could tell me. Yeah, OK, let's see. This is exciting to be seeing. Forgive me for taking the tone of a preacher, you understand a dying man must have a point. Not that I am dying. Exactly. My doctor tells me I'll live longer than most since I see him more than most. Of course, he cannot be trusted, nor can any man who promises you life for looking his way.
Promises come from the chosen, a lunatic, the whitest dove, those who hear the voice of God and other old music. I'm not chosen. I only have a point like anyone paid to bring bad news. A preacher, a soldier, the doctor. We talk about God because we want to speak in metaphors. My doctor clings to the metaphor of war.
It's always the virus that attacks in the cells that fight or die fighting hell. I remember him saying the word siege when Arash returned.
Here I am dying while he makes a battle of my body.
Anything to be seen when all he really means is to grab me by the chin. And like God, the father say through clenched teeth, look at me when I'm talking to you. Your healing is not in my hands, though I touch as if to make you whole. You're just waiting for me to ask the question, are you? Yeah, well, yeah, yeah. What are you what are you.
I'm really. I'm realizing. Yeah, I'm realizing for the first time in my life that I've put things in books that I haven't read in front of people.
You mean right now for the first time in your life, right here with all of us, that there are things in books that putting something in a book is very different from like reading it in front of people.
But I'm I feel really good about this, though.
I mean, it's really fascinating to me like that very the different the work you do when you're sort of letting go and allowing whatever it is like I think I said this earlier, you know, you have to allow whatever wants to come to come at you, at your poems.
The the work you do has to have access to all of your life.
And so it's really interesting to talk about that in front of you.
Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, to see that enacted in the last couple of things I read. Yeah.
But I mean, that is that is the thing about writing isn't it, because we can't it's another part of us gets poured into that, that we're not we just don't walk around, you know, we're not all in a Shakespeare play speaking poetry to each other.
Yeah. I mean, it's part of the reason why. I think the most nervous I've been about this book that's called The Tradition Gets You Saw, but the the the book in many ways is about rape and and sexual coercion and.
Which was while I was writing it. What I knew I was supposed to be doing, and now that the book is coming out, there's not going to be any way for me to run from it when it's time to read those poems in front of people.
And so I'm preparing myself for that because everybody enjoys their anonymity.
But I understand that I've signed up for something that doesn't necessarily give me anonymity in the eyes of other people. But I also understand poems can only capture certain tones, and they're not how we feel about things forever there, how we're capable of feeling about things when we write the poem. I think writing poems for me helped transform my feeling about, um, about a lot of stuff.
So I think this is really good practice for me to read the stuff that you have me reading.
Well, it's a pretty intense moment to be writing about rape and sexual violence as well. Were you already writing about it before? Yeah.
I mean, I had been writing this book the my most recent book came out in 2014 and I realized that I had said a bunch of things, but that I hadn't told the entirety of the truth. I sort of told part of the truth about your parents.
Well, actually about HIV and that I got HIV because I had been raped. So like so there's this book where I'd like admit having HIV, because I realized after my first book I realized, you know what? You didn't say that. And you're thinking about that all the time, which means you're lying. You haven't given all of yourself.
So you have to allow that. If that's what wants to come, you're going to have to allow it to come. And so it can you know, it's not in every poem, but it's there.
And then this other book being about this.
This thing, this idea that I have about Greek myth and about Western civilization and about the murder of black bodies for absolutely no reason by police and all of those things have to do, all of that sort of encroaching is like a kind of rape.
And in order for me to understand that kind of rape, I had to make it real and literal. And so I had to use my own, which was really something I hadn't thought about.
I mean, other than in therapist chairs, do you know what I mean?
Like, I really hadn't thought about how to make that into writing. So it was the hardest work I've ever done and yet the most inspired work. And so now I'm in that stage as the book is. We're sort of in galleys and, you know, doing the work.
We get the book down. As we're doing that work, I'm thinking to myself, like, oh, this is so exciting. What the fuck have I done? Yeah.
Oh, my God. I can't wait till my book comes out so that I can hide under my bed. Do you know. Do you know what I mean. Yeah.
And I'll be fine, like I read actually in New York a couple of nights ago and and I got through it. I mean, I was crying and stuff, but I got through it, you know what I mean? And so and so I'll just keep doing that because ultimately somebody needs it. I mean, I need to write those poems because I need to get to the next phase of my life where I get over this stuff and I'm clearly holding in.
That's what I need it for and that's what I'm writing at first. But whenever I write a book, I find that there are people in the world who needed it and that, you know, I'm not writing for that. But that's good to get.
Well, that's that strange thing that the more the more authentically and deeply we can speak from our particular experience, we speak to the particular experience of others.
Yeah, yeah. Um, so true. Yeah. Which is why it doesn't it's not quite logical that it's work that way, but it's true. But when you say universal things and they don't speak to the particular experience of others, um, you know something you just said a minute ago.
I just want to I want to just kind of underline that that. This is you how you are releasing this book in this moment where this whole matter of sexuality and and rape and the spectrum of what leads to that. Is out in public, and my personal feeling is that we, you know, just that we just scratch the surface, we reckon with it in public in these really imperfect, flawed situations.
But what you just said about. That this reckoning with what happens to particular bodies, black bodies or women's bodies body, is it actually it's our civil it's connected to this much larger civilizational reckoning with bodies. Yeah, yeah.
And what we've been told about them, you know, part of the reason why I say this is the hardest thing and yet the most inspiring thing, I think.
In all my reading, I hadn't really been reading any poems that called rape, rape, you know, like we read a lot of poems where rape might happen, but we don't really realize that's what it is.
Do you understand?
There's a lot. I mean, I don't I haven't read a lot of poems that really interrogate these questions about power and that really look at the fact that men still have no idea what rape is.
They really look at I mean, really, really will rape somebody and not know that they did it. Yeah. I mean, I'm interested in if we're going to have these conversations, I want to have them and I have to have them in my genre. Right.
I think the conversations that are being had should be if you're a preacher, they should be that you should have them in the pulpit.
If you're an engineer, somehow you should be. I don't care what you do.
You should be having the conversation. You're supposed to hear a parent if you're a teacher.
And in spite of that, I think we're sort of calling something something. But we're not interrogating what it is and we're not answering quite like what is the answer to sexual assault within a community? Right. We know what it is, what the answer is in the workplace. We know what the answer is in the law. What is the real answer in a community?
Right. And we have we have poetry communities. We're not so great things happen to women. So what do we do? What's our answer to that?
Right. And so I wanted to write poems that sort of got it, trying to figure that out for myself.
Well, something you said. Something, say it. Yeah, I, I don't know exactly. There's a lighter than what we're doing. Everybody's like, what happened? We were having such a good time.
After a short break, more with Derek Brown. You can always listen again and hear the unedited version of every show we do on the On Being podcast feed wherever podcasts are found.
And being is brought to you by the John Templeton Foundation, harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest and most perplexing questions facing humankind, learn about the 2020 Templeton Prize winner Dr. Francis Collins and his work to find a cure for covid-19 at Templeton Prize Drug. I'm Krista Tippett and this is on Being today experiencing the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, the magnetic Jericho Brown. We spoke at the 2013 Geraldine R. DOD Poetry Festival. Something you said about the similarity between poetry, poems and church services, that poems have structure and they have music, and you said and they even have surprises.
You don't know who's going to shout. I remember I was in church one time. I think I was 10 or 11 years old and I had just started wearing I couldn't see the whole time I was growing up.
And my mom and dad finally shield out the money for me to get some glasses.
And this was huge in my family, by the way, because glasses were really I remember they were like a hundred and something dollars and anything that was three digits was not happenin when I was. I'm serious. I think that's what they were. We were just blind. I didn't see a dentist until I was like 24 years old. Do you know what I mean?
Like, anything that cost money, they were like, how are we supposed to do that? We don't have money.
And it was real. So I had these glasses and I was all excited because I could see and this man next to me must have shouted so good and knocked my glasses clean across the church.
I know. And they broke and then, you know and you know how you knew that that was going to happen.
You knew going to church, somebody's going to get excited, but you didn't know when they were going to get excited. You didn't know how I was going to manifest itself. And so similarly, when I'm writing my poems, I'm thinking about structure in this way.
And I'm trying to figure out, well, where is the surprise for me? Where am I going to say the thing I don't expect to see?
Right. So so, you know, I've had this a similar conversation with Marilyn Nelson. I know she's here. I don't know she's here in this room, but, yeah, she's wonderful. This whole thing about the structure and meaning and how they work together, I mean, I think you're saying this like you may be working with the structure. Yeah. Or within the structure. And yet, you know, the surprise. Yeah. Can emerge from that and must emerge from that.
Well, you haven't written anything until you say something you didn't expect to say. That's when and that's the beginning. Yeah.
You know, you sort of write, you're sort of like oh you got some words. Oh that's a nice word, do you know what I mean. And then suddenly you and you're looking and as you're writing, you're making sentences and suddenly you will say something. That you have to hurry up and keep talking, because if you don't, you'll you have to realize I just said something that's crazy and now I've got to keep going on that point. I can't run from that.
Do you have a do you have an example or a story of what was happening in a poem surprising you? This could also be serious.
Yeah, I do, actually. Maybe I'll read maybe I'll read one of the new poems, because that's OK with you all.
Yeah, I read this one because a lot of people saw it. It was in Time magazine and it's the first time something really great happened to me and I could tell my mom. Because usually good things happen, you know.
You know, I don't know my mother, you know, I really don't think people who work at Kroger's, there's no expectation that you're going to bring your mom with you to go to work. And when you're an architect and you design a building, there's no expectation that your mother is going to like what you draw the plans or walk through the building with you when it opens, you know what I mean? But when you're a poet, everybody's always like, what?
Did you send your book to your mother yet? Right, right.
Right. Yeah. And I'm like, no, hey, crazy. What would I look like? Send in my book to my mom.
And so, you know, we have an agreement that she that this was in Time magazine.
Yeah. This poem was in Time magazine. I sent her the Time magazine. She's very happy that she's like, oh, that was nice.
Now you're finally writing a nice poem.
Yeah. I'm telling too much now, y'all are going to be like that would nice for day in the morning.
My mother grew morning glories that spilled onto the walkway toward her porch because she was a woman with land who showed as much by giving it color. She told me I could have whatever I worked for. That means she was an American, but she'd say it was because she believed in God. I am ashamed of America and confounded by God. I thank God for my citizenship in spite of the timer set on my life to write these words. I love my mother.
I love black women who plant flowers as sheepish as their sons, by the time the blooms unfurled themselves for a few hours of light, the women who tend them are already at work blue.
I'll never know who started the lie that we are lazy, but I'd love to wake that bastard up at four day in the morning, toss him in a truck and drive him under God, past every bus stop in America to see all those black folk waiting to go work for whatever they want, a house, a boy to keep the lawn cut some color in the yard. My God, we leave things green. SAPOL, thank you so. So literally, I got in, I got to say, I love my mother.
And there, you know, which is a feeling I actually have and that many of us have this feeling, I mean, but I've never had any opportunity to say that.
And it is it was the most emotional thing for me, and it was a huge surprise to me to get to a moment where that was indeed the next thing. The thing the pope needed was a truth. And it it seems a small truth. And yet it in that moment, it was the largest truth because that love from my mother then becomes this love I have for an entire people in a way that I sort of a sort of a way I'm really bothered by the way an entire people can be misunderstood.
So, yeah. That's a surprise. There are other surprises, you know, in this poll, like when I say I love black women who plant flowers at sheepishness, their sons, which is like me clearly talking about me when I was a kid, but also sort of making that larger, you know, so I like that.
Interest. A surprise is that.
Thank you. That's fun for you. Yeah.
I think my way of making a poem is very different from other people's way of making a poem I.
I mean, I do this in several ways, I mean, one of the ways I do it is I have a bunch of things that didn't work and I just put them together and they're all on different pages. And I cut them up and I set them on a table and it's like I'm putting a puzzle together. But what I do other than that is I write a line and then I write another line because it riffs off of the sound of that line.
And I keep doing that. Thinking about the rhythm in the sounds of the line before the line, but not thinking about what I'm saying, so sometimes I'll have notation like I'll know that a sound needs to be there. And that sound might be a word like road, but the sentence won't make the line won't make any sense as we think about, since I don't care that it doesn't make any sense.
I write the next line after that, which sounds something like that line. And then once I've done that, I sort of hit something that makes me where I sort of feel spent.
And I look at that mess of words and I start asking you questions and this is how I am better able to get at the subconscious because I have the experience that we have when we're looking at a painting.
When we look at a painting, a painting is some kind of impressionistic. Yeah, it doesn't matter how concrete or abstract the painting is, something in us is driven to say this is about.
You know, and will give it a we'll give it a beginning, a present, and we'll give it an after. Yeah, right.
We see two people talking across the lawn across like a campus or something.
There's something in us that wants to imagine what they're talking about. Oh, he's getting it now. I knew she I knew she was going to put up with that. We don't even know, you know.
Yeah. And what are they to each other. What's this. And we.
Yeah, we we and if you ask the poem questions things you think things that you have experienced, things you lived will begin to come out.
Mm. It's kind of you know you actually your process is structured to yield surprise. Exactly. Exactly.
Like, you know, just ask it questions and you'll find out, you'll find out what you've really been thinking. So what I'm saying is we bring to language whatever we're already thinking about. And our job is to really find out, to sort of dig and see. So what do I really think? What am I really that's what I'm trying to do. Wow.
And that interrogation is and is not always happening. Right. Like that is true. And every moment we're all bringing something to what we see and how we feel about it, how we interpret it. Yes, but this is the process of taking that on. Yes.
And what is it that you're bringing? That's a very good way. What do you bring to the moment that you're not aware you're bringing to the moment? And if you can figure that out, then you can also become more of who you indeed are because you're facing what you really think, who you really are. And you can make a decision like, do I want to be that person or do I want to more fully inhabit and become this person I have been being?
I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being Today with the poet Jericho Brown. I think, unfortunately, we have to wind down, but that's too bad. I know. See, I said we could just keep nattering up here. Well, I want to. We laughed. We cried. We did.
In the crudo, you know, said one thing I feel about the world right now is there's kind of there's a scarcity. There's a fragility to hope. Right now. I experience a lot of people saying and it's hard to know that what you do, what I do can make a difference, although it feels like there's so much we want to change. I want to read something you wrote in that credo.
You said, Hope is always accompanied by the imagination, the will to see what our physical environment seems to deem impossible.
Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield.
It could have, in your words, come right back to you. Say that again. Yeah, yeah. That that that's the anthem right there. I like that. That was good. I love that. You did. Yeah. Right. Yeah. No that was good. Yeah. Again I'm going to. That's very good. Young this young. Write it down ok. Oh it's online. I think it's online. Get some of the words in Google.
Hope is always accompanied by the imagination, the will to see what our physical environment seems to deem impossible.
Only the creative mind can make use of hope.
Only a creative people can wield it.
Oh, creative people. I got some creative people out there. Yes, my God, I to go home. I like that. OK, so there's something else you have to me, right? This goes together with that. I love this. People should pay me way more.
So here's the other thing, people it's like people feel like right now, like like it's hard not to be captive to the loud voices, the loud stories, the bad stories, the catastrophe.
You know what there is to work. You know, there's a lot to worry about.
You said this. An event happening ten minutes or ten years ago matters if anyone can indeed feel the effects of it now feels really important to me, to anyone. Right. If you have something you did ten minutes ago, one person feels the effect of it. That's a metric. Mm hmm.
Yeah, I agree. This isn't a question. You just want me to say something about that. I'm just using the occasion of having you sitting next to me to you know, it's hard.
It's I mean, you know, I don't know I don't know how you I mean, I've been asking my friends this lately a lot. Right. Like, why are we doing all of this?
You know, like somebody introduced me as a cultural worker and I and I feel like that.
And I'm sort of like, but why am I doing all that?
And then I realized that it was in the title that what I do, I do for culture, that I create culture that I live in and and and benefit from culture and that art and that culture make my life worth living and that it pushes me on to see more art, to make more things that I'm a person who believes in living as one would want to see a life. Right. That I really do believe in making the poems that I want to be in the world, in teaching the classes that I would want to see if I were a student in dancing the way I like to see people dance.
Do you know what I mean?
And I think for me, knowing that I can do that is what I have. And I'm hoping that for more people, that can be what you have in this moment, that instead of looking at looking at the things that mean to hurt us, that we can look at each other. Right.
That we can hold up in the opposite direction some poetry that we can hold up in the opposite direction, some song that we can hold up in the opposite direction, some belief we have in some community project, some play something that we are doing, some child that we love, and that I think if we can concentrate on the best of one another, on the best of the best of us, if we can really make the world we want to live in, even if it's only in our own heads or in our own homes or in our own cars on the way to work, then we'll be doing the beginning of something new.
Yeah. I feel like we should end with a poem. Hey, and thank you all so much for being here. It's page 50 for. Some 150. Some folks fool themselves into believing, but I know what I know once, at the height of hopeless touching, my man and I hold our breaths certain we can stop time or may be eliminated from our lives, which are shorter since we learn to make love for each other rather than doing it to each other.
As for praise and worship, I prefer the latter only memory makes us kneel silent and still hear me.
Thunder scares, lightning lets us see then heads covered. We wait for rain. Dear Lord, let me watch for his arrival and hang my head and shake it like a man who's lost and lived. Something keeps trying, but I'm not killed yet. Thank you. Jericho Brown is Winship research professor in creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. He also directs the university's creative writing program. His books of poetry are The New Testament, Please, and the tradition for which he won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
We recorded our conversation live on stage at the 2013 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, which we loved. Being part of this year's festival will be held virtually October 22nd to November 1st and will include Joy Harjo, Reginald Dwayne Betts and passed on being guests Elizabeth Alexander, Natasha Trethewey and Richard Blanco. Learn more about how you can join them at Dodge Poetry Festival, Doug.
Beyond Being Project is located on Dakotah Land, our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoe Keating, and the last voice that you hear singing at the end of our show is Cameron Kinghorn. On Being is an independent non-profit production of the NBN project. It is distributed to public radio stations by WNYC Studios. I created this show at American Public Media. Are funding partners include the Fetzer Institute helping to build the Spiritual Foundation for a Loving World.
Find them at Fetzer Dawg Calliope, a foundation dedicated to reconnecting ecology, culture and spirituality, supporting organizations and initiatives that uphold a sacred relationship with life on Earth. Learn more at Calliope Dog Humanity, United, advancing human dignity at home and around the world. Find out more about humanity. United Dawg, part of the Omidyar Group, the Osprey Foundation, a catalyst for empowered, healthy and fulfilled lives. And the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis based private family foundation dedicated to its founders interest in religion, community development and education.
On Being is produced by our studios in Minneapolis, Minnesota.