The Tradition

The Tradition

Jericho Brown’s daring new book The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Brown makes mythical pastorals to question the...

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Title:The Tradition
Author:Jericho Brown
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Edition Language:English

The Tradition Reviews

  • Read By RodKelly

    The Tradition is a stunning and poignant collection of poems that examine the ache, the grief, the sexuality, the music, and the language of the black body. Be it man, woman, lover, or tormentor, these roles are exposed and explored with a sharp and slightly sardonic eye. These poems challenge our collective amnesia and complacency with the horrors unleashed upon our communities and our very own bodies; the ways in which we fight for autonomy and freedom, the ways in which we lie to ourselves to

    The Tradition is a stunning and poignant collection of poems that examine the ache, the grief, the sexuality, the music, and the language of the black body. Be it man, woman, lover, or tormentor, these roles are exposed and explored with a sharp and slightly sardonic eye. These poems challenge our collective amnesia and complacency with the horrors unleashed upon our communities and our very own bodies; the ways in which we fight for autonomy and freedom, the ways in which we lie to ourselves to avoid confronting the violence inflicted by those who were supposed to keep us safe and loved. Coupled with the incredible formal and stylistic variety on constant display, The Tradition is a simply a flawlessly written collection of elegiac and lyrical poems that will continually linger in my mind.

  • Brenna Gomez

    Jericho Brown’s The Tradition is a poetry collection that will not turn away from the difficult thought, feeling, or deed. The book knocked me all the way down from the very first page. It begins with the stunning, “Ganymede”—a poem that rewrites a painful history: “When we look at myth / This way, nobody bothers saying / Rape. I mean, don’t you want God / To want you?” If we pretend we chose the terrible things that happen to us, then they can’t possibly be that bad. But it doesn’t mean we don’

    Jericho Brown’s The Tradition is a poetry collection that will not turn away from the difficult thought, feeling, or deed. The book knocked me all the way down from the very first page. It begins with the stunning, “Ganymede”—a poem that rewrites a painful history: “When we look at myth / This way, nobody bothers saying / Rape. I mean, don’t you want God / To want you?” If we pretend we chose the terrible things that happen to us, then they can’t possibly be that bad. But it doesn’t mean we don’t remember the truth.

    Typically, when I read a poetry collection I love, I typically want to speed through it, consume it whole because it’s so good. With this book, I found myself wanting to spend days winding my way through each poem and coming back to each one again and again because they were so powerful.

  • E.

    This book will turn you inside out.

  • s.penkevich

    ’ writes Jericho Brown in his third, and extraordinary new collection

    , ‘

    ’ The task of a poet is often to take in the world and transform the truths into art, a harrowing task when there seems to be a shadow of violence devouring the horizon. Jericho Brown, who is arguably one of the most important voices in poetry today, takes an imploring look into violence, from the personal to the cultural and political

    ’ writes Jericho Brown in his third, and extraordinary new collection

    , ‘

    ’ The task of a poet is often to take in the world and transform the truths into art, a harrowing task when there seems to be a shadow of violence devouring the horizon. Jericho Brown, who is arguably one of the most important voices in poetry today, takes an imploring look into violence, from the personal to the cultural and political, and renders it into unflinching prose that dances to an introspective beat of resilience. There is an urgency to the work that warns against the normalization of the violence, brutality, and racism addressed within the book. In an

    Brown discusses how the book is not only a warning against evil but also ‘

    ’ Brown gives us powerful perspectives on the evils in the world and asks us to not wash our hands of responsibility and allow evil to be normalized but to stand in defiance against it. A harrowing and necessary collection, what resonates from

    is a clear precision of emotions across a wide-range of subjects and the poet’s voice as something approaching holy as he guides us through the horrors of the modern day with a steadfast belief that, if we can come from a place of love, there can be hope.

    This collection is quite the important journey through modern day society told through a vulnerable honesty that will make you swoon even in the bleakest moments. Divided into three sections,

    moves the reader across three different forms of identity in the world. As he examines in an

    , the first section deals with domesticity and community, the ‘

    ’ The final third of the book ‘

    ’ While much of the work deals with difficult and violent subject matter, there is a sense of hope and ‘

    ’ The use of language is stunning, with complex metaphors, greek mythology and a strong sense of musicality in tight and tidy structures. These are poems that look so crisp on paper you practically hear the crunch of an apple when you bite in. Brown has a distinctly beautiful prose style that incorporates elements of the blues, pays homage to traditional forms while forging in bold new directions that are ripe for a graduate thesis paper to truly examine for all their wonders.

    Perhaps most notable is his use of the Duplex, a form invented by Brown. The Duplex is what Brown terms as a bit of a “mutt” form. In his

    , he says ‘

    ’ The answer was the Duplex, a 14 line creation part sonnet, part pantoum, part ghazal and a healthy rhythm of the blues. Interested yet? He even graciously provides a prompt for creating one:

    The delivery is astonishing, with the poem constantly building yet simultaneously returning to itself like an M.C. Escher of prose that brings you full circle while reaching out all the while. If Brown is anything, it is precise, and while the Duplex feels very controlled there is also an inherent freedom blossoming within.

    In

    , violence is examined from all angles. ‘

    ’, Brown writes, ‘

    ’. In a nation with a strong Us vs Them mentality, being a ‘they’ tends to mean anything outside a social power structure that places white, heteronormative patriarchy at the top, a social power structure that eagerly weaponizes fear and normalizes violence to oppress anyone perceived as the “they”. What is truly powerful in

    is the ways Brown examines the intersections of marginalization, from being black in a world dominated by violent whiteness to being gay in a world still blind in hate towards anything outside of heteronormativity. ‘

    ’, Brown writes, perfectly capturing the way blackness is both a beautiful identity to be a part of, but also looked at as a foreign country to direct aggression toward by a white society. The sonnet from which the collection takes its name is perhaps the best demonstration of the collection as a whole with regards to this idea:

    Expect to find this poem anthologized in the coming years. Blackness as a flower is one of the many ways Brown plays with the concept of blackness, juxtaposing it across the collection in ways that examine the identity as well as the connotations with death. '

    ' he write, '

    ' This also brings up the notion of people as disposable to powers that be, particularly disposable if a person is a 'they'. It really can't get much darker than that.

    Philosopher

    spoke against the ‘banality of evil’, something very much present in the evils examined within this work. Arendt warned that evil is perpetuated by the complicity of those who stand by, who just follow orders, who wash their hands of responsibility and allow it to continue. She wrote how totalitarianism, bureaucracy and all evil institutions ‘

    ’--we normalize violence when we act as if it is just part of life and happening outside ourselves. Perhaps a person does not think of themselves as evil but, as

    warns ‘

    ’. Brown looks at the way this works in our modern life, and says to Michael Dumanis that ‘

    ’ We cannot be witness to this world and simply continue on as normal, we have to stop perpetuating violence by being complicit in the banality of evil. ‘

    ’ Brown concludes at the end of the poem ‘Good White People’, a powerful line we must take to heart. Whiteness itself becomes an identity rooted in racial oppression and even the ideas of ‘good white people’ tends most often to be mere signalling and posturing. It is not enough to not be racist, but one must be anti-racist. This also means having difficult conversations with yourself and acknowledging implicit biases. Nobody can ever be perfect, but flaws are a point for growth if we meet confrontation with a mind to listen, learn and grow instead of argument and defensiveness. The world is bigger than the self and the ego, and we must recognize this because, as

    writes in

    , ‘because white men can't police their imaginations, black men are dying’.

    Moving from the domestic, the national to the personal, Brown looks at the ways we have allowed violence to be normalized in society. There are discussions on police brutality, particularly those directed at the black community, such as when Brown imagines a death at the hands of the police:

    Have police killings become so normal that we just shrug it off? Are the frequency of them leaving people to spend so much time protesting the specific officer in the incident--who are far too often let off--instead of the systemic issues that are leading to violence? Violence seems around every corner and we all seem to proceed with gallows humor, normalizing it in our music, our films, our daily lives:

    ’Entertainment Industry’ takes a probing look into the way violence has been normalized for profit in many industries, and how it often relies on stereotypical representations that further stigmas of marginalized communities. The idea that a gunshot on screen resonates so powerfully because being packed into a movie theater is willingly placing yourself in conditions ripe for a mass shooting is absolutely horrific, yet we live with this truth every day. A few stanzas later he addresses the way gun violence is now normalized as a common event in children’s schools:

    We live in a society where resisting systemic violence is met with powerful institutions that value profit over people and have financial incentives to perpetuate the normalization, and then take the vulnerable-minded and propagate them until they do the defending of violence for them. Look at any facebook argument and you’ll see someone raging against their own self-interest to defend gun profits or racist institutions because they have been weaponized by their oppressors. Think of how often we allow ‘

    ’ into our lives, from personal injury to national injury. This is a society that has slaughtered in order to build itself on the bones of the dead. ‘Riddle’ addresses how we only value what society has determined is valued for it’s own profitable growth and perpetuates itself by responding with violence to anyone who they deem is out of line:

    We have allowed ourselves to be marketed into a corner, and this daily life we bemoan in opinion pieces is of our own making. The banality of evil has crept in and our silence allows it to continue.

    This is what makes

    so unbelievably urgent and authentic--it mixes and juxtaposes all the social, personal and political levels of daily life into a poem. It is a successful achievement of what Brown himself says he looks for in poetry:

    If recognizing that this is now our lives isn’t a cry to stand up, speak out and move with purpose and action, I don’t know what is.

    once wrote that ‘

    ’, and no truer statement can be said today. When we see violence, our silence might seem like a good way of keeping the peace with family and friends, or keeping the aim of oppressors away from you, but it is allowing that evil the space to grow. ‘

    ’ warned

    , and

    echos this cry. We need action and Jericho Brown shows us the two inevitable options left: ‘

    is a masterful work that continues to cement Jericho Brown’s place as an essential voice in our world today. The prose flows into you like a strong beat that you can’t help but dance to, and the messages it brings are urgent and necessary. The first step to recovery, they say, is admitting you have a problem. On a social level, this requires admitting that you are inherently complicit in the problems and recognizing the ways this allows evil to grow. This becomes a message of love, of growth, of hope that--despite the deep looks into violence throughout the book--are the shining light that emits from

    . We must all learn to listen, to empathize, to recognize and grow. This will easily be one of the most important books from 2019 and I can’t recommend it more highly.

  • Alana

    Duplex: Cento

    My last love drove a burgundy car,

    Color of a rash, a symptom of sickness

    We were the symptoms, the road are sickness:

    None of our fights ended where they began.

    None of the beaten end where they begin.

    Any man in love can cause a messy corpse,

    But I don't want to leave a messy corpse

    Obliterated in some lilied field,

    Stench obliterating lilies of the field,

    The murderer, young and unreasonable.

    He was so young, so unreasonable,

    Steadfast and awful, tall as my father.

    Steadfast and awful, my ta

    Duplex: Cento

    My last love drove a burgundy car,

    Color of a rash, a symptom of sickness

    We were the symptoms, the road are sickness:

    None of our fights ended where they began.

    None of the beaten end where they begin.

    Any man in love can cause a messy corpse,

    But I don't want to leave a messy corpse

    Obliterated in some lilied field,

    Stench obliterating lilies of the field,

    The murderer, young and unreasonable.

    He was so young, so unreasonable,

    Steadfast and awful, tall as my father.

    Steadfast and awful, my tall father

    Was my first love. He drove a burgundy car.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I first encountered Jericho Brown on a recent episode of

    , where he discussed his work, his life as a gay, black, HIV-positive man, and how he dealt with honesty in his own work (specifically around the subject of rape... he talks about how he wrote around it until he just couldn't write until he dealt with it more directly.)

    It's hard to claim "favorites" in this collection because what Jericho Brown does is speak truths, but they are painful and eviscerating at times. What more could we

    I first encountered Jericho Brown on a recent episode of

    , where he discussed his work, his life as a gay, black, HIV-positive man, and how he dealt with honesty in his own work (specifically around the subject of rape... he talks about how he wrote around it until he just couldn't write until he dealt with it more directly.)

    It's hard to claim "favorites" in this collection because what Jericho Brown does is speak truths, but they are painful and eviscerating at times. What more could we want from poetry?

    So, favorites:

    Hero

    Riddle

    Foreday in the Morning (you can hear this one on the On Being podcast linked above)

    Dear Whiteness

  • Lillian

    Brown's searing, rhythmic poems focus on what it means to be 'human' in our current cultural crisis. This collection of poems explore Blackness, queerness, spirituality and trauma with integrity, and a profound insight.

    His is truly the voice of now.

  • Ellie

    Poems that examine the personal and the political and how they impact upon each other (particularly the political upon the individual). Often filled with strongly negative judgments on the self, the poems combine poems of fatherhood, trauma, being gay and all its personal complications (as well as the complications of being human and looking for safety and love).

    Brown uses an interesting combination of forms, including sonnets and the ghazal, a form I especially admire and enjoy).

    These poems ar

    Poems that examine the personal and the political and how they impact upon each other (particularly the political upon the individual). Often filled with strongly negative judgments on the self, the poems combine poems of fatherhood, trauma, being gay and all its personal complications (as well as the complications of being human and looking for safety and love).

    Brown uses an interesting combination of forms, including sonnets and the ghazal, a form I especially admire and enjoy).

    These poems are both formally and emotionally interesting and powerful. It's a volume I will read again; it is too full to read only once.

  • Ken

    Many of the poems in the first half of this book focus on the political. Most in the second dwell on the personal. You might like one or the other or both.

    For a sample poem, along with one from a book I read at the same time,

    , you can

    .

  • Jee Koh

    Poems immersed in poetic and cultural tradition but find their own way to their end. It's quite incredible that Brown found a viable and individual way to talk about the unspeakable and the communal: family hurt, violence against black bodies, and the mystery of love and lust. The language is deliberately plain, but the control is very tight. I'm not enamored of the duplex, a new poetic form invented by Brown, and poems written in that form thread through the collection. It's a hybrid of the blu

    Poems immersed in poetic and cultural tradition but find their own way to their end. It's quite incredible that Brown found a viable and individual way to talk about the unspeakable and the communal: family hurt, violence against black bodies, and the mystery of love and lust. The language is deliberately plain, but the control is very tight. I'm not enamored of the duplex, a new poetic form invented by Brown, and poems written in that form thread through the collection. It's a hybrid of the blues, the ghazal, and the sonnet, but it seems to surrender the peculiar strengths of each of those traditional forms.

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