Jericho Brown is an associate professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University in Atlanta. This is a steal. Whatever he is being paid, it is simply not enough. He has a laundry list of accomplishments that most writers dream of and likely never accomplish, simply because a man like Jericho Brown deserves every accolade he will ever apply for or that should come across his desk.
His latest book, The Tradition, is a masterful force of poetic writing. Combining the sickening imagery of the modern world with an intense amount of self-reflection, The Tradition is not only a book for now, but a book about humanity that should long endure. The tones and settings are timeless. Whether he is discussing the fears of “free” black people, mental health problems, AIDS, or sexual assault, this lens is both a microscope and a telescope into the human experience and the broken psyche created by living in our world today.
One of the early poems in the book, The Microscope, bends reality into one of the smallest settings we can imagine. “...in that science class where I learned what little difference God saw if he saw me.” You cannot see the world the same once you look at the cells of everyone around and see little to no difference. The wonder and imagination of a small child not yet aware of the ills of chosen segregation or police brutality or the true violent nature of his fellow classmates is an emotion few remember, even less attempt to capture. Jericho Brown does just that with the utmost precision.
A later poem, Bullet Points, is a scathing social commentary that winds through depression and mental health stigmas in the black community, police brutality and its impacts on communities and society, about how people will lie to you constantly about the degrees of brutality, but the images captured and the numbers published never will. “(A Police Officer) took me from us and left my body, which is, no matter what we’ve been taught, greater than the settlement a city can pay for a mother to stop crying, more beautiful than the new bullet fished from the folds of my brain.” There isn’t really much anybody can say to properly respond to a statement such as that.
But, The Tradition is full of statements to quote, knowledge and power to be gained from looking at the world through a lens of powerful introspection turned outward. I could talk at length about every poem in this book so it would be difficult for me to say you should pass on any opportunity to support this father, educator, and artist, but if you’ll allow me just one more prime example of exemplary writing from Jericho Brown, I would suggest the poem, Correspondence.
This poem was inspired by a series of paintings called The Jerome Project by Titus Kaphar. Titus went looking for the police records of his father and found many men convicted and incarcerated for various lengths of time and myriad of crimes. Titus Kaphar took these men, painted their faces on gold leaf backgrounds, and then dipped their portraits into tar to signify the toxic nature of prison and the negative impacts such a life must have had on their brains, on their bodies, and on their quality of life. Utilizing these themes, Jericho Brown writes a tear-jerking poem of sincerity and innocence that I personally have never come across in any medium. Scribing a letter to future men, he states “The young are hard to kill. May be harder still to hear a kid cry without looking for a sweet to slip into his mouth.” He speaks as someone too innocent to understand how and why these men would become broken in these ways by the systems keeping their oppression at the forefront.
The Tradition by Jericho Brown is an accomplishment of American poetry and should rightfully be celebrated as such. There is no promise that it will win any awards, but I do know that whether it manages to capture an institution’s seal of approval or not, this is one of the best collections of poetry in existence by a living writer, and I can only hope that this is recognized while he is alive in this world today.
My Name is Alexandria Swan Tuesday. We are the Tuesday-Xavier Collective. We Are a group of 18 different people inside of one brain. We are a recovering drug addict. We have experienced homelessness. We have seen just how small the cracks have to be for you to fall through them. We are The Rose That Grew From Concrete. When we are not writing for social change, we are writing about ducks, running from geese, and playing old Xbox 360 games (Bioshock is top 3 all time fite me about it outside) We love to talk about mental illness, being trans, and how the two wreak havoc on our social life but are in no way causative of each other. We collectively prefer she, and pineapple on our pizza.