Poetry News

F. Douglas Brown & Geffrey Davis Discuss Fatherhood in Begotten

By Harriet Staff

At PBS NewsHour, Elizabeth Flock meets with F. Douglas Brown and Geffrey Davis to discuss poetry as a platform that engages with the complexities of fatherhood, in an age when growing up black in America is riddled with confusion. Brown and Davis met at a poetry retreat in 2012, and their conversations became fuel for their collaboratively written, newly published chapbook called Begotten. Brown, 33, and Davis, 44, are eleven years apart. Davis is the father of teenagers and Brown has a five-year-old son. Sometimes, their dialogue becomes a place where Brown asks Davis for advice. Davis: "I felt blessed to have this chance to cultivate questions about doubts, worries, and wonders about what it means to be a father." More:

In “Begotten,” many of the poems look forward, to convey advice to a son, or explore how a father can best help a child navigate racism or understand sexuality. Others look backwards, to their own fathers and the fears they have of inheriting the violence that came before. A number of the poems do both.

“In that first conversation we had, we talked about the expectation of what the black father is supposed to do or has not done,” said Brown. “And I think we work against that. People always ask about the vulnerability in our poems, because that is something not readily shown in African American fathers. That, and the love we have offer.”

Both love and vulnerability are present in the poem “What I Mean When I Say Harmony,” though toughness also makes an appearance. Its first line is: “dear boy be the muscle: / make music to the bone.” Centering around touch and violence, the poem is addressed in parts to both a father and a son.

In the fourth and fifth stanzas of the poem, there is the echo of a worried parent: “If I ever / catch you confusing / a pulse for a path or a bridge / to beat loneliness you blood / will be the object of discussion.” This line, Davis said, came from the memory of his mother telling him not to engage in the same violence his father did.

Read more and listen to Brown and Davis read from Begotten at NewsHour.