The Tradition by Jericho Brown

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 77 pgs.
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A little unconventionally, I found Jericho Brown on Twitter without having read his poetry, but what he says on the platform caught my attention and I’ve followed him ever since. When the pandemic hit, I was a poet without a group of poets to fuel my revision and writing and I found a number of Zoom workshops and events to fill the void.

However, when the opportunity to have a workshop with Brown came up (for free), I was, first, stunned it would be free, and, second, that I could workshop with Brown! This workshop turned my writing on its ear. I have not forgotten his methods, his exercises, or his advice during that session. In many ways, his workshop led me to break out of the box I pinned myself in. With that in mind, I just had to pick up his book when I finally had money and could enter a bookstore in person again — yes, I waited because bookstore trips are like spiritual experiences.

Without further ado, here’s my review.

The Tradition by Jericho Brown explores the violence that has become tradition in the United States and elsewhere and its effects on not only the body, but the soul. He opens this collection with “Ganymede,” that breathes the modern world into Greek mythology and the kidnapping of the young Trojan by the gods and equates it with the taking and selling of slave children across the plantations. “The people of my country believe/We can’t be hurt if we can be bought.//” he says in the ultimate lines of the poem. How true and untrue that statement is. The truth of it is that they are harmed, but that others perceive that they are not because they are property.

From this opening, we know as readers we’re taking a journey into deeply emotional territory for Brown from the choice of a mother to side with a father and forsake her son to the bright lives of Black men and women who are cut down so easily and without remorse on the streets every day.

From "Bullet Points" (pg. 16)

Calling worst. I promise if you hear
of me dead anywhere near
A cop, then that cop killed me. He took
Me from us and left my body, which is,
No matter what we've been taught,
Greater than the settlement

But it isn’t just the violence against Blacks that he talks about, it is the coverup of history and that we gloss over the atrocities of our history. The stealing of land from native peoples, even as those people never laid claim to the land but merely subsisted on what it gave them. The conquering of other lands merely because we wanted to or could, all in the name of democracy or some other twisted ideal — only to turn our back on it when everyone wanted freedom.

The Tradition by Jericho Brown pushes us to ask why violence has become a standard for us and to look at where it comes from. It is rooted in all that we are as a nation. In order for us to find that “something vast” and to leap toward it, we must break this tradition and create something new.

RATING: Cinquain