Board Member Anna Ferdinand reflects on a recent interview with Jericho Brown in the Bennington Seminar Series.


In this far-reaching interview, Jericho Brown, a National Book Award finalist and a returning poet to this years year’s poetry festival, sat down with the Mark Wunderlich, director of the Bennington College MFA program.

His role as an artist, he says, is not to determine his audience, or to let his audience determine who he is as a writer.  

“I don’t think that’s my job. I ain’t out here trying to determine my audience, I’m writing the best poems I can write.  I’m trying to lose my mind when I write poems. I’m putting my entire life on the line for my poems and i’m hoping that that  yields everything I know about language.”

Brown, who earned his PhD from the University of Houston, and an MFA from the University of New Orleans, addressed his influences and how he plays with form, not for the form’s sake, but to see how form helps the poet achieve an emotional investment in the poem.

“I don’t sit down and think about, oh, am I going to sit down and write a sonnet today, or am I going to sit down and write a villanelle. What’s important for me as a poet is I know what the forms are.” 

Having learned the form, he has gone on to subvert the forms.

For example the Elizabethan sonnet, he describes as an Imperial form. It “wants to own the world.”  

”The sonnet is the supposed achievement for the poet…That is the language I grew up speaking, that is mine, so I’m always fighting against this thing… I am american, everyone should have this condition, but it is definitely the condition of being a black American, like, ‘we don’t want you, you’re mine.’”

In his latest book, he includes “all of the things we think of as the basics.”

While working with the traditional forms,  he goes on to create a new form, and calls it the duplex.

In the duplex, Brown repeats the last line in a couplet in the first line of the next.  He describes it as a subversion of the form, which came from playing with the idea of a crown or corona.  In a crown of sonnets, the crown is when the last line of the sonnet, becomes the first of the next.

 “Then I thought, if I cut all the meat out and get to the next line, I have a Ghazal!”

He describes to students from the low-Residency MFA program how, in his process, the crown, becomes a ghazal – a couplet with specific rules- and “in order for that to work, I would have to animate it with the blues.”

Form, he says, allows for music. “So, that’s probably my attraction to it,” he says.

“I wanted to make something that in its appearance, was like, wait, what are you? And I wanted to create something that held a lot of time and space in its appearance, because that’s how I feel.”  

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