Brown worked as a speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before earning his
Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston. His
first collection of poetry,
won the American Book Award. Brown is the recipient of the National Endowment
for the Arts Fellowship, a Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute at
Harvard University, and a Whiting Writer's Award. He has also received two
travel fellowships to the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland. His poems appear in
magazines including, Oxford American, Ploughshares, and A Public Space,
and in anthologies such as, The 100 Best African American Poems edited by
Nikki Giovanni. He teaches Creative Writing as an Assistant Professor of English
at the University of San Diego and lives bi-coastally between California and
Statement of Poetics
I strive to be clear—not obvious. I am neither afraid of nor married to difficulty or accessibility. I mean to write poems that are felt before they are understood. Of course, anyone who reads or hears my poems can tell that I have an investment in story and folklore, particularly as they are understood in the African American literary tradition, but no matter how obvious the narrative, I have never thought that knowing exactly what is going on in a poem makes it attractive.
I think of writing, first, as a process of listening to some series of sounds that enter my mind and, second, as a process of embodying those sounds. I try and leave as much as I can to instinct, intuition, and reflex—even in the final stages of revision. Because I'm so interested in both music and voice, I find myself trying to figure the personality of the sounds as I am composing. At some point in the writing of a first draft, I start to take on the characteristics of the voice asking to be channeled through words that convey what I think of as a necessary mixture of the sacred and the profane, the ironic and the ecstatic. An example of this might be something as simple as punching the computer if the voice is pissed to the point of violence.
I hardly feel
that I have any control or power over the "story" that begins to emerge from a
poem while composing it. I do my best writing when I am most vulnerable to the
writing, when I allow for the construction of images and lines that, in the
midst of composing, frighten me.
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