Poet Jericho Brown shares writing tips at Aldrich workshop
For Jericho Brown, poetry is a medium where he uses language as a raw material to create his poems much the way a child might use building blocks or toys. The magic of a poem, for him, lies in its subjective and evolving nature.
“I think over the years you can read the same poem over and over. You read that poem when you’re 15, when you’re 25, when you’re 35 and every time you read it, you see something different and you feel something different, you know something more,” he said. “That’s one way you know that you’re dealing with poetry. Poetry is deep and therefore it changes over time as you grow with a poem. You see things that you otherwise would not have seen.”
Seeing new things and exploring his own identity through poetry, as a gay black man who grew up in Louisiana, Brown says poetry allows him to explore being an artist of many backgrounds and to navigate the complexities of life.
Brown will teach a masterclass poetry workshop at Ridgefield’s Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum on Feb. 13 from 1 to 3 p.m, followed by a Q&A and poetry reading from 7 to 9 p.m. Copies of his most recent book, “The Tradition,” will be on hand that night and he will be signing them.
A winner of multiple awards, including the American Book Award, he will help students to create new work in the workshop to avoid the panic that can set in when presented with the dreaded blank page. He will be leading exercises to get ideas flowing as well as sharing his thoughts on the relationship between reading and writing poetry.
“I’m doing a generative poetry workshop, which means I’m going to take them through several exercises so they can have tools at home when I’m not around. Instead of staring at a blank page and wondering what to say or how to say it, they can start writing,” he said. “I think the key to writing is get something down and once you get something down, you have something you can fix, but you can’t fix it if you don’t have text to work with so that is part of what I’m going to teach at the Aldrich.”
Not surprisingly, Brown’s own poetry is highly personal and he can process his own experiences through his poems. “I think what I try to do when I write my poems is to use everything I have. “What I know is my own personal life and personal experiences and so I try to put all those things on the same level,” he said. “The experience of joy, the experience of sadness, the experience of something very mundane like tying my shoes as well as the experience of something quite personal like making love — when I’m writing a poem I want all of those experiences, all of that knowledge, at the ready.”
He does not deliberately set out to achieve catharsis through his poetry though that often will happen. As he writes, he is focused on the words and sentences. It’s only after he has organized and revised his poem does he see the order for his life that he has created. “When I’m writing a poem, I don’t really think about the fact they are personal experiences at all. I think about the fact that they’re sentences and they are lines and I get so excited about them that I kind of forget what I’m saying.”
Because poetry is such a subjective medium, it can be difficult to pin down. “What I get from poems and what I love about them it’s just how ephemeral and ineffable they are,” Brown said.
Writing poems for “The Tradition” was an exhilarating yet terrifying experience for Brown as there was a period of just over a month (between Thanksgiving 2017 and Martin Luther King Day in January) when he had an intense creative spurt and wrote about 40 poems. “It was exhausting [laughs] and it was wonderful,” he said. “It’s all any poet would want and yet because it was all happening to me all at once and so fast, it was really scary for me. I wasn’t sure at the time what to make of it. I was actually very afraid because all of this was coming out of me at the same time. I didn’t imagine that I would have anything ever to say again once it was over.”
The poetry workshop is $89 for nonmembers and $80 for members. The poetry reading is $12 for nonmembers and $10.80 for members. To attend the workshop or reading, register online. For more information, visit shop.aldrichart.org/collections/events.