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About this poet

Jericho Brown grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and worked as a speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before earning his PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston. He also holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Orleans and graduated magna cum laude from Dillard University in 1998.

His first collection of poetry, Please (New Issues, 2008), won the 2009 American Book Award. The collection has received tremendous praise since its release; Ilya Kaminsky notes: "His lyrics are memorable, muscular, majestic. His voice in these lines is alive—something that is quite rare in his generation of very bookish and very ironic poetics. Brown's poems are living on the page, and they give the reader that much: a sense of having been alive fully, if only for a duration of 75 pages of this volume. Indeed, Jericho Brown's first book is one of those rare things: a debut of a master poet."

Brown is the recipient of a 2009-2010 Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University and a Whiting Writer's Award. He was a finalist for the 2009 Lambda Literary Award and Paterson Poetry Prize and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has also received two travel fellowships to the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland.

He was a Teaching Fellow in the English Department at the University of Houston from 2002-2007 and a Visiting Professor at San Diego State University's MFA program in spring 2009. He has also taught at numerous conferences and workshops including the Iowa Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa. He currently teaches creative writing as an assistant professor of English at the University of San Diego.

Langston Blue

Jericho Brown
“O Blood of the River of songs,
O songs of the River of Blood,”
       Let me lie down. Let my words

Lie sound in the mouths of men
Repeating invocations pure
       And perfect as a moan

That mounts in the mouth of Bessie Smith.
Blues for the angels kicked out
       Of heaven. Blues for the angels

Who miss them still. Blues
For my people and what water
       They know. O weary drinkers

Drinking from the bloody river,
Why go to heaven with Harlem
       So close? Why sing of rivers

With fathers of our own to miss?
I remember mine and taste a stain
       Like blood coursing the body

Of a man chased by a mob. I write
His running, his sweat: here,
       He climbs a poplar for the sky,

But it is only sky. The river?
Follow me. You’ll see. We tried
       To fly and learned we couldn’t

Swim. Dear singing river full
Of my blood, are we as loud under
       Water? Is it blood that binds

Brothers? Or is it the Mississippi
Running through the fattest vein
       Of America? When I say home,

I mean I wanted to write some
Lines. I wanted to hear the blues,
       But here I am swimming in the river

Again. What flows through the fat
Veins of a drowned body? What
       America can a body call

Home? When I say Congo, I mean
Blood. When I say Nile, I mean blood.
       When I say Euphrates, I mean,

If only you knew what blood
We have in common. So much,
       In Louisiana, they call a man like me

Red. And red was too dark
For my daddy. And my daddy was
       Too dark for America. He ran

Like a man from my mother
And me. And my mother’s sobs
       Are the songs of Bessie Smith

Who wears more feathers than
Death. O the death my people refuse
       To die. When I was 18, I wrote down

The river though I couldn’t win
A race, climbed a tree that winter, then
       Fell, flat on my wet, red face. Line

After line, I read all the time,
But “there was nothing I could do
       About race.”

Copyright © 2010 by Jericho Brown. Used by permission of the author.

Copyright © 2010 by Jericho Brown. Used by permission of the author.

Jericho Brown

Jericho Brown

Raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Jericho Brown won the 2009 American Book Award for his debut collection Please

by this poet

poem
I spent what light Saturday sent sweating
And learned to cuss cutting grass for women
Kind enough to say they couldn’t tell the damned
Difference between their mowed lawns
And their vacuumed carpets just before
Handing over a five-dollar bill rolled tighter
Than a joint and asking me in to change
A few light
poem
I don’t want to hurt a man, but I like to hear one beg.
Two people touch twice a month in ten hotels, and
We call it long distance. He holds down one coast.
I wander the other like any African American, Africa
With its condition and America with its condition
And black folk born in this nation content to carry
poem

To believe in God is to love
What none can see. Let a lover go,

Let him walk out with the good
Spoons or die

Without a signature, and so much
Remains for scrubbing, for a polish

Cleaner than devotion. Tonight,
God is one spot, and you,

You must be one