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Erika Jo Brown
Erika Jo Brown

Art

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, March 1, 2017.
About this Poem 

“During an artist residency in Vermont, I observed the precautions that painters and sculptors took before handling their materials, including switching out of street clothes into studio ensembles. I wrote this about a month before my wedding. Romance was in the air, as were toxic fumes—same thing, no?”
—Erika Jo Brown

Art

Not many passions take your pants off—
painting with oils, reading in the afternoon,
other people’s bodies. I want to really
say something here. I want to be clear.

But just as no two people see the same
colors, what you hear is not what I’m
saying. Not conversations as much as
serial misunderstandings, proximate
in space. One considers the dictionary
definition of “man.” One considers
the definition of “woman.” One considers
arm hair, soft spaces on a hot body.

The obsessive heat-seeking quality of
attraction. The paint on my pinkie is for
you—a little poison, a little turpentine.
The snaggletooth I want to stick my
tongue into. This is pigment from a rock,
this is pigment from a bug, this is pigment
from a bleeding heart, and this is jeopardy. 

Passion brought me here, but passion
cannot save me. To mix linseed and
varnish, to create something is to vanish
what was there before. Chroma for fastness,
chemistry tricks. Such bold strokes in
erasing and framing delicate beginnings.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Erika Jo Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Erika Jo Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 1, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

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poem

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
Maya Angelou
1978
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Robert Lowell's "Epilogue" Manuscript
poem

Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Anne Sexton
1981
collection

Robert Lowell: A Centennial Celebration

This year marks the centennial of Robert Lowell, who was born on March 1, 1917, in Boston. Known for his somber, deeply personal poetry that grew out of the tradition of form poems, Lowell helped shape the story of modern American poetry with works such as Lord Weary’s Castle (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and his watershed collection Life Studies (Faber and Faber, 1959). In celebration of Lowell, his life, and his legacy, we’ve compiled this collection of poems, essays, and ephemera featuring the poet.