Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Wisdom of Jericho Brown (Part 1 of 2)

If you ain't heard, Jericho Brown's got a new book of poetry out, Please, which is so funky and beautiful it hurts. One of the featured poems, "All That Crawls Beneath Me," was in last summer's Indiana Review Funk feature. I mentioned that my mom liked the poem and he said he would send her a copy. And you know what? He actually did it! The man is a gentleman and a scholar (and an amazing poet). He was gracious enough to bless us with some wisdom.

1. I'm sorry, I'm still tripping: can you believe we got a brother in the White house?

Yes. I believe that anything one visualizes consistently becomes reality. President Obama and his family and his supporters just started saying “what if” so much that the ifs became for them, for us, a series of constant thoughts and images. Collective thought is the baddest motherfucker out there.

The Obama campaign concerned itself with his and his family’s image in a way that had even his opponents seeing him as winner. That’s why the early endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, a person who seems incapable of losing, was so important. The trick to winning anything is to have your opponent think of you and see you as the winner. Even the most racist people in this nation couldn’t stop thinking about Obama actually being the President of the United States. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton never had this problem/benefit because everyone was never thinking of them at one time while they ran.

I believe it, but I was still wild with surprise when I saw newscasters on every channel saying it.

2. I saw this story about Obama criticizing his own debate performance during the Democratic primary and he said that he had a "certain ambivalence" that served him well as a writer, but hurt him as a candidate because in the world of politics ambivalence is read as weakness. You worked as a speech writer for the Mayor of New Orleans (would that be Ray Nagin?) in your previous life. How big is the difference in writing for the world of politics versus the world of literature?

I served the City of New Orleans for four years working for Mayor Marc H. Morial, who is now President and CEO of the National Urban League. He’s an amazing leader who made his love for that city absolutely contagious. He is also a major role model for me as my fraternity brother and the man willing to take a chance on me and give me my first job right out of college. (The word “give” is supremely important here, considering the desperate shape I was in.)

Marc H. Morial and somebody's baby daddy.
At the end of Mayor Morial’s second term, I worked for a little more than half a year for Mayor Nagin. I wanted to stay with Mayor Nagin but got accepted in the Ph.D. program at the University of Houston and had to make a decision. That’s why I’m Dr. Brown, and you’re a lot more fun.

A speechwriter goes into each speech knowing the message and figuring the best way to communicate the message as he goes. A poet figures ways of communicating and wonders if he has a message. I prefer the latter life because it gives me a chance to question beliefs that I myself hold dear. There is no room for such questions when working to drive a message home.

3. Funkier: Diana Ross or Beyoncé playing Diana Ross in Dreamgirls?

This is an unfair question as Beyoncé only has a few scenes against Ross’ fifty year career.

Beyon did some really good imitations of Ross and of what Ross means to people in Dreamgirls. Of course, funk is anything but imitation, right?

Besides, Diana Ross has had more hair and has worn more orange. She’s probably the only person in the world who can boast getting laid by Gene Simmons, Berry Gordy, and Smokey Robinson. Smart girl if you ask me. Funk indeed.

4. In the description of your new book, Please, it says that the work is "the album playing in the background of the history and culture that surround African American/male identity and sexuality." Many of the pioneers of funk played with or subverted traditional notions of identity and sexuality. James Brown had his hot pants, George Clinton had his costumes, Rick James also had his hot pants, and Prince--well, Prince is Prince. Is funk a part of this identity/sexuality dynamic on the Please "album"?

Hmm…here’s page 59:

Why I Cannot Leave You

You bring home the food. I’m your hungry man,
Captive damsel dragged by the hair from her favorite
Streetlight to the trap of your tower, hollow ice box,
No magnets with things-to-do. No rules. It wouldn’t
Be fair—you bring home the food—you can’t read
Or write. I pace, check the window for my hunter. You
Bring home food and toss it onto the card table.
My teeth barely miss my fingertips—I rip
Into the bag. You like to kiss me, my mouth
Packed with the fastest franchise you could find, animal
Blood at each lip. Say carnivore, and I kiss back. I eat
My meat rare. You bare your sharpest grin. Bum
I say I love, you’re my place to stay. We’re against the law.
No one keeps me big as you. Fatten me, sweet ogre.
Get me some meat. Bring home food. Feed.

5. Finish this sentence: Roaches are...

On the wall
We don’t need no Raid
Let the motherfuckers crawl

Stay tuned for part II


Marcus Wicker said...

Way to represent for a hell of a collection. Although, I'm reviewing the book for the next issue of the IR so you're kind of stealing a brotha's shine. But in the name of poetry, I'll allow it.

Abdel Shakur said...

Thanks for letting that slide, young player. I can't wait to read the review.

Remember back in the good ole days when I used to try to get you to write reviews?


Jackson said...

lol at
"Even the most racist people in this nation couldn’t stop thinking about Obama actually being the President of the United States."