Jericho Brown at AWP

I love you.  You are my ambassador to the world and I am yours.  We represent one another.  And that is how I know you love me.

We're different from other artists. The poet is busy not only with her poetry, but also with making poetry itself a better home for poets or with making poetry known to those who haven't experienced its power.

You and every poet I know do more for poetry than write poems.  We write reviews or run reading series or host radio shows or write blogs such as this one I am writing to you now or give readings though we're afraid of speaking in front of people or edit journals few bother to read and anthologies everyone wants to attack.

Our greatest strength is our sense of community.  We believe we have a right to one another.  And I hope that's true.

(Of course, our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. Sometimes we can be downright clannish, incestuous even.  Sometimes your feelings about a poet has more to do with how you judge his ambassadorship than it does how his poems move you. Sometimes in my ambassadorship, I mistake community-building for the manufacture of drones who act and write just as I do.)

Ultimately, you believe in me because you trust that I'll offer my poems to eternity and my actions to what poems can do right now.

And I believe in you because I trust that you will do the same.  You will write poems that you can't refuse.  You will sing complexity into every word because you believe poems must be as odd and ambivalent as any human mind. Last I wrote to you here, I used the word "political" for this. Of course, the first politics are the politics of the heart and mind and body. The bloodiest war is the one you have been willing to wage in yourself for your poems. I love you for that.

We argued about all of this when we were younger. But we've been together so long now that you know better than to think I'd try to tell you what your subjects should be. You won't let that lie come between us. You can't let it impede our love.

You are welcome to write about whatever the hell you want. This crazy idea that anyone expects you to write or not to write about race or war or...well it's just plain ridiculous.

I expect you to write about that which is wracking your brain from moment to moment in the midst of writing. I expect you to be open to and skeptical of all you are and all you believe while writing a poem. If in truth, you've only thought of flowers and fruits for the last half of your life, then know now that I am the the biggest champion of those poems. Our promise to one another is a promise of syntax and line. This the truth of our agreement.

We went into this agreement declaring to always have an exciting relationship to difficulty. No, not just the difficulty we find in opacity or that which is hermetic or elliptical or subtle. I know we both still want that from poems as much as we want what people have mistakenly called accessibility. (I say it is a mistake because so many say accessible when they mean to say they "got it" after the first read and don't have to see it again to get more: that right there would mean they didn't read a poem in the first place. But I digress; the two of us already know all that.)

When I say difficulty, I mean how hard it is to manipulate into stylized language even that which we avoid. How much do you avoid? How long have you avoided it? Is there anything that made you decide that poetry itself is somehow better than that which wracks your brain? If it has found a home in your head and yours is the head of a poet, doesn't that mean poetry wants it? You want me to ask you these questions for the rest of your life.

Champion of fruits and flowers. Champion also of that which you've decided against. As you tell me you'll still write the poems you find missing in this world. As you tell me you still want to write what asks you to be written. Because.

Because you're still the one I want to hear from, the object of my every preposition and affection.


Originally Published: April 21st, 2015

Jericho Brown is the recipient of the Whiting Writers Award and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Arts. His first book, Please (New Issues, 2008), won the American Book Award, and his second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon, 2014), was named one...