Acclaimed poet Jericho Brown came to campus and recited over a dozen poems from his collective works on Friday, April 22. Alongside his reading, The Courant held a table selling his books at the event. Brown is the author of three books of poetry, including The Tradition, his most recent book, which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
Following the reading, Brown answered questions from the audience. He repeatedly referenced the idea that he belonged to a community of writers–those both present and historical. He explained that he learned to write by reading the work of other poets and recognizing what he liked and didn’t like, which he then applied to his own writing.
Later in the Q&A session, Brown said that writing well requires falling in love with yourself and your past, particularly with what you don’t want anybody to know. He reasoned that good writing may take a long time to do. Brown explained that he deems a poem as bad when he realizes that he isn’t telling the full truth. He noted that this was also how he tried to read his poems effectively: by remembering the emotional truths he felt when writing the poem so that they could come through in his reading.
Brown’s reading struck many members of the audience who praised the emotional power of his words. Prince La Paz ’24 said that he had never encountered performed poetry before, which made Brown’s reading powerful and revelatory.
“In the past, or in my whole life, really, I’ve never really heard people reading poems out loud, except for English classes when the teacher or students read a poem. But I’ve never heard a poet that’s really acclaimed read their own poem. This was the first time I’ve heard that in-person and I feel like it really said a lot. It was very powerful because the poet was able to read it in the way that he wanted it to sound, which I feel is really special,” La Paz said.
Dorothy Swanson Blaker ’24 also found Brown’s reading style and the manner in which he enunciated each word to be particularly powerful. She commented that she could feel the genuine emotions that Brown infused into his poetry.
“Brown’s style of reading his poetry was incredible. The second that Brown started speaking, he sent this energy into the room that made it feel electric—it was beautiful. He delivered each line with amazing intentionality and rhythm, and knew exactly how he wanted everything to sound like. I felt his words so intensely, and I feel like everyone else in the room did, too. The fact that he wrote so personally, from his heart, made it all the more impactful; you could tell that his whole heart had gone into the words,” wrote Blaker in an email to The Phillipian.
Jaylen Daley ’25, whom Brown shouted out during his reading as his “favorite person in the audience” for his enthusiasm, said he found joy in identifying with Brown’s poetry and seeing his culture expressed. He also appreciated that Brown’s poetry gave him insight into new ways of looking into his own life.
“It was just really nice to relate. In the questions he said that…how he knows he’s finished, how he knows what to talk about, comes from community, and we share a lot of that community, even if I’m not a poet. I’m still black, and I still have that culture. It was nice to gain a new way of looking at what I know to be life and the society that I know…It’s just culture and it makes me happy to see that expressed. I’m really glad to be an interactive audience member because I can express that I feel seen by [Brown] and express my appreciation. It was thoroughly one of the best events that I’ve been to,” said Daley.
When asked what his biggest takeaway was, Daley referenced one of Brown’s responses in the Q&A session: that writing poetry was a way for him to come to terms with his emotions about his past. Daley noted that Brown’s answer made him realize that his past was something he could try to apply to his own art, opening up the possibility of self-transformation.
Daley said, “Understanding his artistic process made me feel like if I wanted to try to do it myself, I would have a good place to start. I’m a big dancer and I want to choreograph things and I have a lot of ideas. It just makes me feel like maybe I [could] be a lot more powerful and meaningful and resonant if I were more open. It doesn’t sound out of the realm of possibility, that [by being more open] I could make my art a lot more powerful and I can make myself more powerful.”