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The Tradition

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Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award

"100 Notable Books of the Year," The New York Times Book Review

One Book, One Philadelphia Citywide Reading Program Selection, 2021

"By some literary magic—no, it's precision, and honesty—Brown manages to bestow upon even the most public of subjects the most intimate and personal stakes."—Craig Morgan Teicher, “'I Reject Walls': A 2019 Poetry Preview” for NPR

“A relentless dismantling of identity, a difficult jewel of a poem.“—Rita Dove, in her introduction to Jericho Brown’s “Dark” (featured in the New York Times Magazine in January 2019)

“Winner of a Whiting Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Brown's hard-won lyricism finds fire (and idyll) in the intersection of politics and love for queer Black men.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

Named a Lit Hub “Most Anticipated Book of 2019”

One of Buzzfeed’s “66 Books Coming in 2019 You’ll Want to Keep Your Eyes On”

The Rumpus poetry pick for “What to Read When 2019 is Just Around the Corner”

One of BookRiot’s “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections of 2019”

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—is testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while reveling in a celebration of contradiction.

ISBN-13: 9781556594861

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Copper Canyon Press

Publication Date: 04-02-2019

Pages: 110

Product Dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for The Tradition, Jericho Brown earned his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the Universityof Houston. He is the recipient of the Whiting Writers Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland. His first book, Please (New Issues), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament, won won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was named one of the best of the year by Library Journal. Brown is the director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory Universityand lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Read an Excerpt

THE MICROSCOPES Heavy and expensive, hard and black With bits of chrome for points of pride, they looked Like baby cannons, the real children of war, and I Hated them for that, for what our teacher said They could do, and then I hated them For what they did when we gave up On stealing looks at each other’s bodies To press a left or right eye into the barrel and see Our actual selves taken down to a cell Then blown back up again, every atomic thing About a piece of my coiled hair on one slide Just as unimportant as anyone else’s Growing in that science Class where I learned what little difference God saw if God saw me. It was the start of one fear, A puny one not much worth mentioning, Narrow like a pencil tucked behind the ear, But, by certain grace, lost when I reached for it To stab someone I secretly loved. A bigger boy who’d advance Through those tight, locker-lined corridors shoving some Without saying Excuse me, more an insult than a battle. No large loss. Not at all. Nothing necessary to study Or recall. No fighting in the hall On the way to an American history exam I almost passed. Redcoats. Red blood cells. Red-bricked Education I rode the bus to get. I can’t remember The exact date or Grade, but I know when I began ignoring slight alarms That move others to charge or retreat. I’m a kind Of camouflage. I never let on when I’m scared Of conflicts so old they seem to amount To nothing—dust particles left behind really— Like the viral geography of an expanding country Or like the most recent name of an occupied territory I imagine you imagine when you see A white woman walking with a speck like me. RIDDLE We do not recognize the body Of Emmett Till. We do not know The boy's name nor the sound Of his mother wailing. We have Never heard a mother wailing. We do not know the history Of this nation in ourselves. We Do not know the history of our- Selves on this planet because We do not have to know what We believe we own. We believe We own your bodies but have no Use for your tears. We destroy The body that refuses use. We use Maps we did not draw. We see A sea so cross it. We see a moon, So land there. We love land so Long as we can take it. Shhh. We Can’t take that sound. What is A mother wailing? We do not Recognize music until we can Sell it. We sell what cannot be Bought. We buy silence. Let us Help you. How much does it cost To hold your breath underwater? Wait. Wait. What are we? What? What on Earth are we? What? DARK I am sick of your sadness, Jericho Brown, your blackness, Your books. Sick of you Laying me down All so I forget how sick I am. I'm sick of your good looks, Your debates, your concern, your Determination to keep your butt Plump, the little money you earn. I'm sick of you saying no when yes is easy As a young man, bored with you Saying yes to every request Though you're as tired as anyone else yet Consumed with a single Diagnosis of health. I'm sick Of your hurting. I see that You’re blue. You may be ugly, But that ain’t new. Everyone you know is Just as cracked. Everyone you love is As dark, or at least as black.