Please don’t believe any Poetry is Dying or Poetry is Being Resurrected think pieces you come across. Poetry has always been exactly where romantics seem to think it disappeared. The difference is that the commercial appeal is rising again; poetry made a few people a profit, and it therefore rose in prominence for those that weren’t previously invested. In reality, just like fiction has sci-fi, YA, historical, and other sub-genres – all with their own level of commercial appeal – so does poetry.
This column isn’t so much a judgment on quality between poets that lived 100 years ago and poets that post 25 times a month on Instagram, but rather a commentary on the intent. Some are driven to answer questions for their readers that desire to be brought under the tent. Some poets ask questions that beget more questions on a path of discovery. Aptly named Raising the Bars, this series seeks to dig into the craft of some of the most talked about poetry books being released today: breaking them down in a way that doesn’t necessitate a Master’s in Fine Arts to understand and appreciate the craft of it all. We’re hoping to regularly bring you something new, and help you see poetry where it is today and where it has always been.
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
In the eye of The Tradition is one of the most complete interrogations of life, death, love, inheritance, and Blackness. It is more As the World Turns than The Bold & The Beautiful, and it has arrived just in time to gather our edges for the 2020 presidential election.
There is a prayer within the ritual of hair keeping and a spiritual return in the poem that pieces together love within the outstretch of familial limbs and heated twist of bodies. And who doesn’t love love? What soul-less zombie is Walking Dead through their day in this present time of a promised doom? Brown understands what the people need and has delivered these poems for healing consumption.
In the poem “Bullet Points”, the reader is teleported into the interrogation room that was refused to the late Sandra Bland. We are asked to bear witness. We are given a moment to grieve. The reader is permitted to cringe, release breath and still a speeding heart. These poems, in their lust for burial and rising, are heirlooms of pain and our American songs. But here, the collection is also a medicine. “Dear Whiteness”, a literary bop (and a literal BOP) is the love of love poems with its melodic reprisal. The chant is something 90s babies can return to, eyes closed for a nostalgic moment.
Brown also introduces the new literary form, a duplex, which returns throughout the collection: bread-crumbing the readers to a sort of redemption. The Tradition is for both the lovers of poems and the lovers of people. It will not save us all, but it will have the heart to try.
More about Jericho Brown
Jericho Brown is an associate professor at Emory University, where he is also the director of the Creative Writing Program. When not teaching, Brown is an accomplished poet, winner of the American Book Award for his first book, Please. His other awards include the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and the Whiting Writer’s Award. He’s received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Brown is currently on tour — if you want to hear him read from his works, check his tour info page at: https://www.jerichobrown.com/tour
Reviewed by Mahogany L. Browne (no relation)