Posted in Almost Dorothy, The Potty Mouth Interviews

Jericho Brown: Please


Jericho Brown | Pretty in Pink | Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University News Office

Diana Ross is Jericho Brown’s zodiac sign. He also says he’s a liar and likes to squat and burpee. Need I say more. If you don’t believe me, read on. Please. It’ll change your life. In case you don’t already know, Jericho Brown is the Mayor of New Orleans. Well, not really, but he was the mayor’s speechwriter. Now Jericho Brown is the poet who makes me want to be a better Wonder Woman. His book Please is way better than really good sex–well, at least as good as really good sex. It’s the kind of book that hurts. It makes you shut up and really listen to the music. I promise I’ll shut up in a moment and let you read my Potty Mouth Interview with Jericho. Ready? Go.

Almost Dorothy: Hi Jericho, I wrote down a set of questions before I read your book. I thought I was smart, a pre-cog, but I’m not, so I wrote new questions. I ♥ Please. It made the sun brighter when I read it nude sun-bathing. Please is musical, aural, gripping and vulnerable. I’m sure smart people have said much smarter things about your book than I ♥ your book, but when I got to the poem “Like Father”, I knew this book was made from the 4-letter word—l.o.v.e.

Jericho Brown: I’d love to see those earlier questions. I wonder what four-letter word they would suggest about a book you hadn’t read.

AD: I can’t use those words in public, smarty pants. My ma would lock my butt in my bedroom and handcuff me to the bedpost so fast your head would bobble. Jericho, tell me, what makes a poem and what makes a song?

JB: Words manipulated into music make a poem. Music makes a song.

AD: Eh? Were you born a poet or did you become one?

JB: Mad America hurt me into it. I was born gay and black to a father and mother who insisted on proper English but hit me dead in the mouth when I said things they didn’t want to hear. I was born

in the United States.

AD: I was born gay too and M’america hurt me into mishandling proper English. I like to use like and ain’t, pronounce often with a hard t as much as possible. In the poem “Like Father”, there is (sic.) references to “bible scriptures”, “abomination”, and “rubber bands” binding the morning paper. Spirituality, sexual identity, and race are themes that bind your collection together. Did you plan this or did it come from your bones?

JB: A little bit of both I guess. I remember telling my very good poet friend Yona Harvey that I’d like to write a book of poetry that was more like a rock album than like the boring books I had been encountering. I said this in passing. We were both very young at the time, and I hadn’t written any poems yet.

I don’t know what the issues are if they are not spirituality, sexual identity, and race. I’m of the impression that that’s what my poems do, and that’s what they’ll always do. So there’s a way it’s purposeful and yet not purposeful. Dealing with masculinity and femininity, identity and gender and sexuality and race and what the soul has to do with all of this seems to me the calling. Confronting these things and the fact of their complexity seems to me part of my job. So when I’m drafting a poem or revising a poem I don’t really have a second thought about that; I just think that’s what I’m supposed to do.

I think we’ve been telling our students so long, “Write what you know. Write your lived experience,” and I think our students have this idea that we mean write about the time A, B, and C happened to me, but that’s not really it. It’s more, write what you can’t stop thinking about. Write what’s on your mind. Use events in history and people and metaphor, use that stuff to discuss what’s on your mind.

 

Please by Jericho Brown

AD: I can’t stop thinking about how your initials would be more fun if your name were Brown Jericho (B.J.). Do you write from or for your experiences? In other words, are you an archivist or an anthropologist? Or both?

JB: Oh, I lie way too much to be an archivist, and I’m much too self-centered to be an anthropologist. But I would say I write both from and for experiences. I should add here that I think of the imagination as a part of experience. It’s absolutely impossible not to write from experience, and the ecstasy I feel while writing is something I like way better than really good sex. Don’t get me wrong. Really good sex is #2 on my list of favorite things, and the list is very long.

AD: I’m a virgin lamb so I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who is your guardian angel(s) and what do you guys/gals do when you hang out?

JB: It’s no secret that I’m a really big fan of all the divas and that I think of Diana Ross as my zodiac sign. I like to hear her try things in the studio that are hard for her to do vocally. She’s of a pretty small voice when you think of her in relation to her contemporaries, yet she really pushes herself to what limits she has when properly encouraged by producers like Michael Masser and Ashford & Simpson. I love figuring out where she’s made a mistake and how she turns it into a part of the performance.

Derrick Franklin is my first and only love. He…um…takes care of me. And he’s pledged himself to a life of perpetual jet lag on my behalf as we are currently carrying on like high school kids who have the means to support a long distance relationship. We split our time on both coasts, and he gets mad when I say things like “Really good sex is #2 on my list of favorite things,” while I get mad when he forgets to make sure his gun is out of my sight after a long day of work. He’s a federal agent.

AD: Dear readers, yes, he means a real gun. Not Derrick’s gun. Sickos.

JB: I’m really proud of and grateful for my friendships with poets and writers Michael Dumanis, Katie Farris, James Allen Hall, Yona Harvey, Terrance Hayes, Sean Hill, Ilya Kaminsky, Roger Reeves, and Tiphanie Yanique. They help me think and take late night calls and get me out of bed when I can’t remember why I should let my feet hit the floor. They let me be stupid or smart.

Other than that, my students do way more teaching than I could ever do. They really do help me facilitate a class where I remain stimulated and interested.

AD: I love the idea of Janis Joplin, but I’ve got more Diana Ross in my bones, so when I read “Track 4: Reflections” I performed it as if I were Ross because I, too,

One Woman: The Ultimate Collection
Image via Wikipedia

want to reflect the sun. Was I supposed to do that? Just want to settle a bet.

JB: Of course you’re supposed to do that, Neil. Now try reading the back of a cereal box in that same voice. I swear it’s almost as much fun.

AD: Who’s Neil? I sing the backs of cereal boxes and frozen flapjacks boxes everyday, so there. What’s your preferred mode of transformation?

JB:

Day 1) quads&abs
Squats, 6 sets, 2 warm ups, 3 progressively heavier, (up to 285 lbs at present) 8-12 reps, last set at 50% weight, 15-20 reps
Bulgarian split squats on parallel benches, 40 lb dbs 3 sets, 8-12 reps,
Hack squat
3 sets, 8-12 reps, 135+lbs
1 leg presses (machine or plate loaded), 3 sets, 8-12 reps, 100 +lbs OR heavy press w/both legs, 8-15 reps for 3 sets (up to 540+lbs at present)
Leg extension, 3 sets, 8-12 reps, roughly 150 lbs
Abs
Hanging knee raise, 20 reps 4 sets
Ab “sweep” w/forearms on bench, 20 reps per side
Variated crunch (ankle on opposite knee) 20 reps per side

Day 2) chest and tris
Chest Incline Bar or db press, 5 sets, 2 warm-ups, 3 heavy (I’ve gone as high as 205 on heavy days). 8-12 reps
Plate palm press, 2 2 1/2 lb plates, 12 reps, 3 sets
Cable flys, alternating, 30-40 lbs in lunged stance, 3 sets, 12 reps
Dips, 3 sets, 8-12 reps, no weight (feet UP)
Push-up, 4 sets, 15-25 reps, 2 sets hands on bench, 2 sets feet on bench
Triceps
Db kick backs, 20-30 lbs, 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Seated Overhead push press w/db or EZ bar, db=70lbs, EZ bar=55lbs
Incline bench cable rope pull down
3sets, 8-12 reps (drop set on 3rd set), 90 lbs+
Db skullcrushers, 3 sets, 12 reps, 20 lbs

Day 3) shoulders&lower back/obliques
Shoulders
Standing or seated db or barbell overhead press 3 sets, 8-12 reps, 95 lbs (barbell)
3-in-1s, 10 lbs, 3 sets, 10 reps (every other shoulder workout switch do a drop set (ie, 15 lbs 10 reps, 10 lbs 10 reps, 5lbs 10 reps- only 1 drop set to supplement for 3 sets otherwise done as a non-drop)
Rear delt decline bench pull,
3 sets, 10-15 lbs, 10 reps
“paint cans” (db upright row) 40 lbs dbs, 3 sets, 10 reps
Lower back
Hyper extension, both “free weight” and machine, alternate between, total of 3 supersets
Obliques
Woodchoppers, 3 heights, 20 reps per side, 30 lbs
Decline bench reaching crunches. 3 heights, 20 reps per height per hand, 4 sets

Day 4) Hamstrings&calves&forearms
Hamstrings
Lying machine leg curl, 4 sets, last set unilateral, 10 reps per set, 100 (+) lbs, 40 (+) lbs
Walking lunges, 3 times roundtrip. Increase distance and weight as applicable. 40 lbs dbs. Every other hamstring workout switch to weightless triple (or more as I progress) dip lunges
Elevated leg thrusts (focus on glute/ham contractions)
20 reps each leg, 3 sets
Calves
Standing calf raise on smith machine w/elevation, 90 lbs, 15-20 reps 3 sets
Seated calf raise, 4 sets with 10-20 second held contraction on final rep, 90-135 lbs, 10-20 reps
Forearms
Reverse curl, 3 sets 10-20 reps, 35-55lbs EZ bar
Wrist curls w/barbell, 3 sets 55 lbs total (including bar), 10-20 reps

Day 5) back and bis
Back
FYI, always do deadlifts 1st in rotation of exercises, followed always by pull-ups
Pull-ups, wide grip, set a high number, at least 70 (no more than 120), per workout. As many sets as needed to hit the target
Scapula rope pull, 3 sets, 12-15 reps per set, 100+ lbs
Incline bench variated db row, 20-30 lbs, 3 sets, 8-12 reps
Deadlifts w/ GREAT form, 3 warm-up sets, 2x@135 lbs, 1x@185 lbs, 12 reps; 3 heavy sets, building up to around 275lbs or more as my strength progresses, 6-10 reps
Biceps
Alternating standing db curls, 3 sets, 30-40 lbs, 8-12 reps OR barbell curls, 3 sets, 8-12 reps (85+lbs at present)
Hammer curls, 3 sets, 20 lbs, 10-12 reps
Preacher curl machine or free weight, 3 sets, 8-12 reps roughly 75-85lbs

Of course, I work in burpees between sets, and shoot for 100 on average per workout (excluding leg and chest days) as this helps me lose fat.

AD: That was a beautiful poem wrought with iron and tender squats. I feel skullcrushed and all biceptual inside. I wish I were a squat spotter or an incline bench pad. The stories. Anyway, back to the future: in the poem “Detailing the Nape”, a young girl, your sister I presume, is scrubbed (religiously) behind the neck by her grandmother until she bleeds. The grandmother says, “I’m sorry, baby, I didn’t know you were that black.” Being that black or that gay or that _____ (fill in the blank) marks one. Or does it? I’m not sure what I want to ask you. Say what you want. I can’t stop you! I’d love to hear what you’ve got on your mind.

JB: Yes, it marks us. Since you didn’t know what to ask, I’ll just offer some lines that have been of great use to me from Mark Doty’s poem “Charlie Howard’s Descent,”

I imagine he took the insults in
and made of them a place to live;
we learn to use the names
because they are there,

familiar furniture; faggot
was the bed he slept in, hard
and white, but simple somehow,
queer something sharp

but finally useful, a tool,
all the jokes a chair,
stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,
a table, a lamp.

AD: My cheeks are moist. In reference to the poem “David”, how do you keep a man warm?

JB: Not once in all of my whoredom has making a man mad made a man leave.

AD: Whores are not dumb! Be nice. What’s your favorite memory?

JB: I was in an elementary school play, and after the show, my dad cried all the way home because he was so proud of me.

AD: Aww, now I feel somewhat guilty for asking so many stupid questions. That’s sweet. So, worst memory?

JB: I’m a poet, so I like all my memories.

AD: (My tongue shoots out of my mouth.) In reference to the poem “Robert”, I think I can hear the drum beat from the belly of a whale. Care to change your story?

JB: Care to tell me what type of drum it is?

AD: A banjo! Final question: Do you believe in magic?

JB: Yes. I’m from Louisiana.

Jericho Brown worked as the speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before receiving his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. He also holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans and a BA from Dillard University. 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, Brown is an Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego. His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including, The Iowa Review, jubilat, Oxford American, A Public Space, and 100 Best African American Poems. His first book, PLEASE (New Issues), won the American Book Award. Reach Jericho at www.jerichobrown.com.

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I'm not real, but I'm a writer.

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