Poetry's Dark Demands

Emory's Jericho Brown in his own voice

Jericho Brown
Creating New Forms: Jericho Brown challenges the traditional rules of poetry to invent new modes of expression.

He has earned critical acclaim and a Guggenheim Fellowship for his poetry, but Jericho Brown is still learning from Emory College undergraduates in his writing seminars.

Brown was thinking of those students when he realized he needed to challenge some of the existing rules of poetry as he started exploring in his own work the contradictory myths of our nation and the vulnerable black and gay bodies within it.

The result was Brown inventing a new poetry form he calls the duplex. The new structure melds the formality of a sonnet, the inline rhyme and repetition of the ghazal, and duality of the American blues, all in nine to eleven syllables per line. It’s also the title of five poems in The Tradition, his third collection, published this spring.

“My students try the things I say they can’t get away with,” Brown says. “That inspires me to challenge myself, too. I created work for myself because of them, wanting to subvert forms and make new ones.”

The first “duplex” poem in the volume hints at the harrowing images and vivid observations Brown masterfully captures in deceptively simple and short rhymes.

“A poem is a gesture toward home / It makes dark demands I make my own,” he writes.

Brown yielded to those demands last year, finishing his book while also wrapping up his first year as director of Emory’s groundbreaking Creative Writing Program.

According to the New York Times Review of Books: “Even as he reckons seriously with our state of affairs, Brown brings a sense of semantic play to blackness, bouncing between different connotations of words to create a racial doublespeak.”

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