Jericho Brown Clemson Literary Festival Reading
On March 30, Clemson University students, faculty and local community members gathered in the Humanities Hall Auditorium to hear a selection of poetry from Jericho Brown. The accomplished poet shared works from his three poetry collections: “The Tradition,” which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and Paterson Poetry Prize, “New Testament,” winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and his debut collection “Please,” winner of the American Book award.
Festival director John Pursley introduced Brown with glowing acclaim and cited a line of Brown’s duplex poetry as grounding inspiration.
“I begin with love, hoping to end there.”
The sentiment is simple yet encapsulates the beauty of Brown’s work and set the stage perfectly for the hour ahead. Upon greeting the audience, Brown immediately had a captivating presence. Brown had a reverence for the history of Clemson University, dedicating his time performing to Essie, a nineteen-year-old Black woman owned by the Clemsons. It was a powerful gesture, acknowledging Clemson’s history, our progression and the idea of celebrating Black voices, perhaps, a once figment of Essie’s imagination had materialized in our present day. Brown’s introductory poem was a poem of prayer, inviting the audience to share this moment.
His selected poems ranged in tonality, subject matter and form. Themes of inspiration included his childhood in Louisiana, gun violence, maternal and paternal relationships, policing in America, his identity as a Black southern man and self-admitted riddle nerd and Brown’s favorite activity (in addition to writing poetry) cuddling. Brown also shared insights into the duplex poetry form. Brown created the duplex form by rearranging paper strips of poetry on the floor of his home. It was the story of a true creative, the notion to cleverly re-evaluate his own poetry and, from there, create a poetic form where the first line of each couplet mirrors the last line of the previous couplet. The use of repetition and sound in Brown’s work was intentional and yet sounded effortless to the listener. Reading Brown’s work is beautiful, but listening to Brown read the poems makes for an even more immersive experience. Brown went beyond reading his poetry; he performed, he provided amusing anecdotes and proved himself as a skillful poet and a masterful storyteller.
The question and answer portion of the reading was insightful and full of energy. Brown delved deeper into the origin story of the duplex form, gave poetry recommendations and provided wise quips to guide the writers and poets in the audience such as, “I write so that the subject emerges,” and “If I said something I wasn’t intending to say, then that’s a poem.”
The hour slot for the reading seemed to fly by, a testament to the performance ability, writing skill and undeniable charm of Jericho Brown.