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.


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,

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.


            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.