Jericho Brown’s “Duplex”

This morning I began reading a poetry book of 140 pages or so, and, about halfway through, decided to give myself two days. Reading all the poems is one thing, but rereading, thumbing back through, making notes, reflecting—those take a little more time.

Rather than skip a day, I’m offering an example of Jericho Brown’s invented form, “the duplex.” It’s been called a combination of sonnet (notice the 14 lines), ghazal, and the blues, but I see in it also the repetitive elements of pantoum and villanelle. Whatever it is, Brown includes several in The Tradition, and in journals I’ve come across other poets trying out the form.

Duplex

I begin with love, hoping to end there.
I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.

 I don’t want to leave a messy corpse
Full of medicines that turn in the sun.

Some of my medicines turn in the sun.
Some of us don’t need hell to be good.

Those who need most, need hell to be good.
What are the symptoms of your sickness?

Here is one symptom of my sickness:
Men who love me are men who miss me.

Men who leave me are men who miss me
In the dream where I am an island.

In the dream where I am an island,
I grow green with hope. I’d like to end there.

                                —Jericho Brown

Okay, I’m officially frustrated. I can’t get every other couplet to indent, the way they’re supposed to. Here’s a picture of a page:

While looking for a new photograph, I discovered that my favorite podcast, On Being, has several poems recorded by Jericho Brown.

Jericho Brown, The Tradition

THE TRADITION, Jericho Brown. Copper Canyon Press, PO Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368, 2019, 80 pages, $17.00 paper, www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Recipient of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize, The Tradition is about terrorism and love. It sounds like an unlikely marriage, but Brown makes it work. “Jericho Brown is a poet of eros,” the back cover material proclaims, and—rightly—that he “wields this power…touching the very heart of our cultural crisis.” It’s a moving, painful book. A book of witness. I came to it expecting confrontation. It doesn’t disappoint.

Correspondence

            after The Jerome Project by Titus Kaphar
(oil, gold leaf, and tar on wood panels;
7” X 10 ½“ each)

I am writing to you from the other side
Of my body where I have never been
Shot and no one’s ever cut me.
I had to go back this far in order
To present myself as a whole being
You’d heed and believe in. You can trust me
When I am young. You can know more
When you move your hands over a child,
Swift and without the interruptions
We associate with penetration.
The young are hard for you
To kill. May be harder still to hear a kid cry
Without looking for a sweet
To slip into his mouth. Won’t you hold him?
Won’t you coo toward the years before my story
Is all the fault of our imaginations?
We can make me
Better if you like: write back. Or take the trip.
I’ve dressed my wounds with tar
And straightened a place for you
On the cold side of this twin bed.

—Jericho Brown

In “Second Language,” Brown digs “Behind photographs” of ancestors and beneath the meaning of words. “In that part / Of the country, a knot / Is something you get / After getting knocked  / Down,” and “story means / Lie.” In “Bullet Points” and “Stake,” the reader is cautioned not to believe cultural stories about the speaker: “Someone planted / an idea of me. A lie.”

“A poem is a gesture toward home,” Brown writes in one of his “Duplex” poems (a form he created). In these poems home may be a necessary destination, but it isn’t an easy place to be.

You can find poems, videos, and commentary by and about Jericho Brown all over the web, but you might start by clicking, here.

Margaret Gibson: Not Hearing the Wood Thrush

NOT HEARING THE WOOD THRUSH, Margaret Gibson. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 2018, 80 pages, $18.95 paper, https://lsupress.org.

Today I have about a million things to do, but I’m glad the day began with this book. It was like having an hour of quietude, a meditative retreat from busy-ness. Rather than engaging with a world of objects—as so many poets do so well—these poems come at life from a different place, creating almost another world. It’s been a while since I read her Broken Cup, but I believe this book differs even from Gibson’s own earlier work. I like the way the LSU site describes it:

“I look about and find whatever I see / unfinished,” Margaret Gibson writes in these powerful and moving poems, which investigate a late-life genesis. Not Hearing the Wood Thrush grapples with the existential questions that come after experiencing a great personal loss. A number of poems meditate on loneliness and fear; others speak to “No one”—a name richer than prayer or vow.” In this transformative new collection [her thirteenth book], Gibson moves inward, taking surprising, mercurial turns of the imagination, guided by an original and probative intelligence. With a clear eye and an open heart, Gibson writes, “How stark it is to be alive”—and also how glorious, how curious, how intimate.

So, before I rush off (again) to my errands, here is one poem.

The Cry

No longer any wish to give a name
to the one vine
that unfurls its many blooms
continually beside the door,
and whose tendrils
brush lightly at my sleeves,
coming and going. Sorrow daily
changes to wonder, and a cry—
windswept, and yet
particular as the click of a stone
footfall dislodges—
moves throughout space and time.
No hinge or heart-latch to it.
Unsought, it comes to you.
Unbinds and scours.
A residue of all that has been stored
as if in large clay jars
in the inner sanctum of a tomb. And it is
entirely and only what you are. A cry.

—Margaret Gibson

This is a gorgeous poem to read aloud, or for the “mouthfeel,” as some say. I love the line, “No hinge or heart-latch,” and the cascading sounds of “Unsought, unbinds, scours, residue, stored” that fall on the more solid syllables of “large clay jars.”

To learn more about Gibson, visit her webpage.

Barbara Crooker, The Book of Kells

THE BOOK OF KELLS, Barbara Crooker. The Poiema Poetry Series, Cascade Books, An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401, 2019, 88 pages, $12.00 paper, www.wipfandstock.com.

I’ve been saving this book for Easter Sunday. Barbara Crooker wrote these poems, her eighth full-length collection, in Ireland, while on a writing fellowship at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Co. Monaghan, Ireland. Her meditations on the Book of Kells, and other aspects of her sojourn, made me want to meditate on her poems. Like this one (note: the r and v refer to recto and verso, right and left, pages of the manuscript):

Interlinear

Let’s praise the agile little animals
that flit here and there in the Vulgate text,
who can wedge in small spaces: the moth
in initial P, antenna flickering outside the line.
Or the monk on his horse, trotting right off the page.
Look, there’s an otter, his mouth full of fish, and here,
a blue cat sits watchfully by. A gorgeous green lizard
slithers in the text, 72r, while a wolf pads his way
through 76v. It’s a whole barnyard: chickens and mice,
hounds and hares, snakes, eagles, and stags. Animals
as decoration. Animals as punctuation. Things seen
and unseen. So let us praise all of God’s creatures,
including the small and the inconsequential, all of us,
interlinear, part of the larger design.

—Barbara Crooker

This is a physically beautiful book, bought (again) on impulse, just because it was so lovely. But inside the covers, too, such beauty! “Somehow Barbara Crooker has fastened it all to the page here: the sweet green world of Ireland, with its glorious book of Kells, its age-old humor, its inimitable music, its poets with their delicious bendy language, so that you can almost taste those buttery scones and its peat-laced Irish whiskey” (Paul Mariani, back cover).

I wish I could buy copies for all of my friends. I wish I could write such a book. Part, as I said, meditation, part travelogue.  “For the monks, the very shape of the letters / were magical, this graceful insular majuscule” (“The Alphabet”). Then the poems drawing from Yeats and Heaney and other Irish poets. And the poems—more familiar to fans of Crooker—of domestic bliss: “drinking tea in a blue-patterned mug / while rain mutters and spatters / the flagstones” (“Almost”).

You will have to get your own copy, but here’s one more poem. It’s set in October (the month I visited Ireland in 2017), but makes a perfect poem for Easter.

Small Prayer

Ireland, late October, and first frost settles on the lawn.
Yesterday, the gardener on his tractor mowed
in concentric circles, a Celtic knot at the center
of his design. Now in the grooves, ice crystals
set off the pattern, illuminate it as surely
as monks in their cells. Up from the lake,
a fairy mist rises, and whooper swans bugle up
the dawn, which flushes the clouds pink and gold.
On this new day, may I walk out singing, open
to what’s never happened before. Let me be grateful.
Let me pay attention. And then when evening
closes the shutters, may I sail through the night
on the back of a swan.

—Barbara Crooker

This past Friday evening I attended a Zoom event with Enlighten Kitsap featuring Holly J. Hughes. It was a great introduction to inspirational poetry—and how we need poetry in hard times. She read a number of poems, including one by Barbara Crooker (and one by me!). I highly recommend it. The video should be posted in few days: http://www.enlightenkitsap.org/?page_id=13

And for today, may you “walk out singing, open / to what’s never happened before.”

https://www.tcd.ie/visitors/stunning-easter-symbolism-in-the-book-of-kells/