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 terrors to which we’ve become accustomed, and to celebrate how we survive. Poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma are propelled into stunning clarity by Brown’s mastery, and his invention of the duplex―a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues―testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while revelling in a celebration of contradiction.

The Tradition Details

TitleThe Tradition
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseApr 2nd, 2019
PublisherCopper Canyon Press
ISBN-139781556594861
Rating
GenrePoetry, GLBT, Queer, LGBT

The Tradition Review

  • s.penkevich
    January 1, 1970
    ‘I begin with love, hoping to end there,’ writes Jericho Brown in his third, and extraordinary new collection The Tradition, ‘I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.’ 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 ‘I begin with love, hoping to end there,’ writes Jericho Brown in his third, and extraordinary new collection The Tradition, ‘I don’t want to leave a messy corpse.’ 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 interview with Michael Dumanis for the Bennington Review Brown discusses how the book is not only a warning against evil but also ‘the ways in which we are all complicit in many of these situations, however reluctant we may be to admit it.’ 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 The Tradition 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. I am not a narrativeForm, but dammit if I don’t tell a story.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, The Tradition moves the reader across three different forms of identity in the world. As he examines in an interview with Beth Golay for NPR, the first section deals with domesticity and community, the ‘second section has much more to do with the world, the way capitalism oppresses us, real and figurative rape.’ The final third of the book ‘looks at an individual and some of the instances of that individual's life — ultimately of my life.’ While much of the work deals with difficult and violent subject matter, there is a sense of hope and ‘by the end of the book, what I hope I do is that I end in a note of celebration and in praise.’ 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 Invention, he says ‘I wanted a form that in my head was black and queer and Southern. Since I am carrying these truths in this body as one, how do I get a form that is many forms?’ 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:Here are the boundaries:Write a ghazal that is also a sonnet that is also a blues poem of 14 lines, giving each line 9 to 11 syllables.The first line is echoed in the last line.The second line of the poem should change our impression of the first line in an unexpected way.The second line is echoed and becomes the third line.The fourth line of the poem should change our impression of the third line in an unexpected way.This continues until the penultimate line becomes the first line of the couplet that leads to the final (and first) line.For the variations of repeated lines, it is useful to think of the a a’ b scheme of the blues form.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. I love a man I know could dieAnd not by way of illnessAnd not by his own handBut because of the color of that hand and allHis flawless skin…In The Tradition, violence is examined from all angles. ‘I am a they in most of America’, Brown writes, ‘...lost in a forest / of we’. 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 The Tradition 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. ‘Blk is not a country, but I live there’, 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:"The Tradition"Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thoughtFingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learningNames in heat, in elements classicalPhilosophers said could change us. Star Gazer.Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the willOf the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotterOn this planet than when our dead fathersWiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath.Men like me and my brothers filmed what wePlanted for proof we existed beforeToo late, sped the video to see blossomsBrought in seconds, colors you expect in poemsWhere the world ends, everything cut down.John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.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. 'Gratitude is black--' he write, 'Black as a hero returning from war to a country that banked on his death. / Thank God. It can't get much darker than that.' 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 Hannah Arendt 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 ‘functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them’--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 Plato warns ‘The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.’. Brown looks at the way this works in our modern life, and says to Michael Dumanis that ‘The Tradition is ultimately about evil and the normalization of evil. I was thinking about the ways we are complicit in the same evils, the ways I am complicit.’ 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. ‘no such thing as good white people,’ 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 Claudia Rankine writes in Citizen: An American Lyric, ‘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: He tookMe from us and left my body, which is,No matter what we’ve been taught,Greater than the settlementA city can pay a mother to stop crying,And more beautiful than the new bulletFished from the folds of my brain 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:Scared to see a movieAll the way throughI got to scream each scene Duck and get down Mass shooting blues’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:I don’t have kidsCuz I’d have to send them to schoolAint’ that safe as anyPlan for parenthoodMass shooting bluesWe 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 ‘ a violence I mistook for desire’ 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 love land soLong as we can take it. Shhh. WeCan’t take that sound. What isA mother wailing? We do notRecognize music until we canSell it. We sell what cannot beBought. We buy silence… 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.My body is a temple in disrepairThe opposite of rape is understanding This is what makes The Tradition 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:’So no matter the race of the poet, I’m much more interested in a poem that is like the life we live. I want the poem that is like, “I saw that people got shot at the synagogue today, and I had a sandwich, and I miss my daughter.” And in actuality, that’s what a day in our life looks like, and the poem has to carry the tones of all those emotions.’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. Audre Lorde once wrote that ‘silence will not protect you’, 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. ‘Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it,’ warned Simone Weil, and The Tradition echos this cry. We need action and Jericho Brown shows us the two inevitable options left: ‘Peace on this planet / Or guns glowing hot’I’m more than a conqueror, biggerThan bravery. I don’t march. I’m the one who leaps.The Tradition 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 The Tradition. 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. 5/5In the dream where I am an island,I grow green with hope. I’d like to end there.
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  • Read By RodKelly
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • E.
    January 1, 1970
    This book will turn you inside out.
  • Brenna Gomez
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    The Tradition is a rhythmic & hypnotic collection of poems that often focus on surviving a myriad of hardships, largely including deep-rooted racism, police brutality, and being a gay man. Sometimes it takes me a bit to grasp the flow and style of a poet; Brown's various formats not only rolled with ease and grace into my brain, but left me breathless in how he composed both the prose and the meaning in a way that reads so smoothly, like it was meant to be. Both new and seasoned poetry reade The Tradition is a rhythmic & hypnotic collection of poems that often focus on surviving a myriad of hardships, largely including deep-rooted racism, police brutality, and being a gay man. Sometimes it takes me a bit to grasp the flow and style of a poet; Brown's various formats not only rolled with ease and grace into my brain, but left me breathless in how he composed both the prose and the meaning in a way that reads so smoothly, like it was meant to be. Both new and seasoned poetry readers will fall deep not just in love, but in despair of the reality around us that we must not ignore. A game changer.
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  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    I won't pretend I understood more than half of this. Jericho Brown's words are so deep and profound. I get to meet the master next week!
  • Amy
    January 1, 1970
    Foreday in the Morning is the poem that ensured I had this volume on my shelves. What a punch it packs, and does it cover some ground? Hell, yes: racism, mothers and sons, American work ethic, religion, the dangers of being a Black man in the US yet still grateful for that citizenship, flowers. My other favorite poems in this collection also pull no punches, which must be the reason why I'm drawn to them. As a Human Being: this spoke to my relationship with my own father. I think Brown captures Foreday in the Morning is the poem that ensured I had this volume on my shelves. What a punch it packs, and does it cover some ground? Hell, yes: racism, mothers and sons, American work ethic, religion, the dangers of being a Black man in the US yet still grateful for that citizenship, flowers. My other favorite poems in this collection also pull no punches, which must be the reason why I'm drawn to them. As a Human Being: this spoke to my relationship with my own father. I think Brown captures so well that desire to hurt the parent who hurts you, but even in "righteous anger," it doesn't have the effect you desire. Instead it only serves to drive a wedge between you and your other parent who "Must tend to it (the father's hurt) as a bride tends/To her vows, forsaking all others/No matter how sore the injury./No matter how sore the injury/Has left you..."Bullet Points: This poem does not beat around the bush or mince words. The speaker of this poem makes clear that if he is found "dead anywhere near/A cop, then that cop killed me." Brown make clear reference to Sandra Bland in the poem, who it is alleged hung herself in police custody. I really love the line "He took/Me from us." His body, his life, belongs to a community, not only himself (reminds me of Coates' Between the World and Me). The speaker trusts nature to do its thing more than he trusts a cop:"But I promise you, I trust the maggotsWho live beneath the floorboardsOf my house to do what they mustTo any carcass more than I trustAn officer of the law of the landTo shut my eyes like a manOf God might"Correspondence: An ekphrastic poem in response to Titus Kaphar's The Jerome Project, which is a series of portraits of Black men all named Jerome (and I believe they all have the same last name, too?) who were imprisoned. The portraits are done on wood panels with gold leaf paint with tar on their faces, starting from the chin up. The amount of tar is loosely based on the amount of time they've been imprisoned. The tar on their mouths silences them. The materials of the paintings elevate the subjects, sort of like Kehinde Wiley's portraits, I think. Brown makes reference to the notion that Black children are cute to white people, but by the time they're what, 8?, they're to be feared. The Legend of Big and Fine: A tribute to women and cars and an indictment of the men who use the same descriptors for them, "Who claimed them: things/To be entered, each to suffer/Wear and tear with time"Of My Fury: The speaker acknowledges that he loves a man who could die because of the color of his skin and loves him anyway.A.D.: Killer last line: "A man goes to heaven, you suffocate below the weight."Turn You Over: This speaks to my own feelings about the loss of my mother. When others say she is dancing somewhere, or playing cards with my dad in heaven, I want to believe it, but I don't know what to think about where she is. "I'd rather a man to avoid/Than a man to imagine in a realm/Unseen, though even the doctor who/Shut your eyes swears you're somewhere/As close as breath. Mine, not yours./You don't have breath. You got/Heaven." The poem also speaks to my feelings about living with a man and cleaning up after him. The closing line: "I can't be expected to clean up after a man." -- though, I think in this poem, the speaker misses this; would rather have this man to clean up after than not have him at all.The Rabbits: A cool linking of rabbits scampering away from the car pulling in to the driveway to the speaker's skepticism of whether he's lovable.Crossing: Feels like philosophy, breaking things like water and a bridge down into simply things, distinct from one another. The gist seems to be the futility of going to work (commuting) just to come back home again, and the speaker sees something different for himself. "I'm not crossing/To cross back. I'm set/On something vast. It reaches/Long as the sea."
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  • D.A. Gray
    January 1, 1970
    Jericho Brown's collection has the ability to be both mesmerizing with it's tightly packed lines and painful. But the thought that keeps recurring with each read is that there's a lot of love in these poems. Not the overly sentimental love. Critical, honest, at times harsh. In Brown's 'Duplex' that begins the third section he owns this intent: 'I begin with love, hoping to end there / I don't want to leave a messy corpse.' A kind of brutal honesty that wants the person, place, thing the poem is Jericho Brown's collection has the ability to be both mesmerizing with it's tightly packed lines and painful. But the thought that keeps recurring with each read is that there's a lot of love in these poems. Not the overly sentimental love. Critical, honest, at times harsh. In Brown's 'Duplex' that begins the third section he owns this intent: 'I begin with love, hoping to end there / I don't want to leave a messy corpse.' A kind of brutal honesty that wants the person, place, thing the poem is confronting - to be there tomorrow - knowing in the present culture of fear and its violent offspring - that is not a given. Nothing, whether it's lovers, family, community, faith, escapes this critical eye - something Brown ties together in 'Stake' when he asks 'How / old will I get in a nation / that believes we can grow out / of a grave' (43). For the poems' harshness they carry with them an undercurrent of hope that is never far away, but a current that requires digging beneath the false mythologies in order to find it. Important, essential collection.
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  • Caroline
    January 1, 1970
    4.75 starsRead this one in a single sitting because I didn't want to put it down! Brown's poems are inviting and accessible but never simple--he even created his own form, the duplex, which he uses several times throughout the collection. These poems are grounded in the physical, both of the body and of nature. He writes about surviving in a world where violence is all around us, but especially for black people. I was really moved by a lot of these poems and look forward to checking out some of 4.75 starsRead this one in a single sitting because I didn't want to put it down! Brown's poems are inviting and accessible but never simple--he even created his own form, the duplex, which he uses several times throughout the collection. These poems are grounded in the physical, both of the body and of nature. He writes about surviving in a world where violence is all around us, but especially for black people. I was really moved by a lot of these poems and look forward to checking out some of Brown's earlier collections. Definitely will be re-reading this one soon to savor the rich writing all over again. I thought about sharing some individual lines but so many of his poems are most impactful as a whole, so go read them!
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  • Joy Melody
    January 1, 1970
    This was the first full collection that I have read by Brown, and I was not disappointed. Through each poem, I became more and more impressed with their capability to talk about such heartbreaking and heartwrenching topics in such an elegant way. As a Black woman in America, sometimes I find it hard to put into words the things that I am feeling and facing every day and I think Brown did just that by covering hard hitting topics like rape and racism in these poems. He discussing heartbreak of a This was the first full collection that I have read by Brown, and I was not disappointed. Through each poem, I became more and more impressed with their capability to talk about such heartbreaking and heartwrenching topics in such an elegant way. As a Black woman in America, sometimes I find it hard to put into words the things that I am feeling and facing every day and I think Brown did just that by covering hard hitting topics like rape and racism in these poems. He discussing heartbreak of a father beating a mother with such powerful language that I was transported to the room that the transgressions took place and was watching it happen. I would highly suggestions this collection as a must read and to be moved to the top of your list ASAP
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  • Dominic
    January 1, 1970
    Jericho Brown's work blends the spiritual with the deeply personal, with the painfully political, with the mythological. From first to last poem, all gorgeous. His language opens itself up generously—never narrows—making room for the reader in all its glorious spaces. This is one I'll be rereading and an author I'll be revisiting very very soon. One of the best reads this year.
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  • Colleen
    January 1, 1970
    I am only about halfway through this book of poetry and so far it is AMAZING! I usually read one or two poems a day because they are so powerful. I always read with a pen and half the lines are underlined, circled, or arrowed because the phrasing is so memorable and revealing. I highly recommend this book for people who love poetry and people who don't know they do yet.
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  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    This was an excellent, excellent book of poetry. Really loved the whole thing. It's difficult, queer, complicated, focused on raced and just all around great writing. My favorite lines: "No matter how sore the injury / Has left you, you sit understanding / Yourself as a human being finally / Free now that nobody's got to love you."
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  • Weston Richey
    January 1, 1970
    Stunned.
  • Carolyn
    January 1, 1970
    The way he uses a repeated phrase to create a turn... /swoon/More later...
  • Dorielys
    January 1, 1970
    An engaging, powerful collection that forces you to confront the evils around us every day.
  • Frances
    January 1, 1970
    Spectacular, beautiful collection.
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