I'm going to die, so why can't a poem?

Michael Dumanis: Some years ago, I heard the poet Claudia Rankine question the act of writing for posterity, for a reader who may not exist yet, as opposed to writing into the present. This made me think of poets in the Black Arts Movement consciously writing to a particular community, or of writing about what’s on the news at the moment you’re writing. Do you feel like you’re increasingly writing more for the present than for posterity, and this is something you think about a lot?

Jericho Brown: I think I use the tools that are given to us, and those tools have something to do with immortality and posterity. For instance, the tool of metaphor is human and everlasting, and when we think, whether we like it or not, we make use of metaphor in order to better process certain things. I think structure, I think narrative, I think order, I think juxtapositions, I think certain things are going to be the tools that everybody uses, regardless of when. Ultimately I don’t have tools that are different from Milton’s tools, though I might know more about poetry, quite honestly, than what Milton knew. Because he didn’t have access to the poetry of the East, for one thing. He also didn’t have Langston Hughes, do you know what I mean?

Michael Dumanis: He didn’t have access to all the incredible things that happened after he died, which you do.

Jericho Brown: And also, he made those incredible things happen. They would not have existed without him. You know, Milton’s like my homeboy lately. Everybody gets sick of me talking about Milton.

But I think either Claudia says what you heard her say a lot or maybe I was there for that same conversation, because that comment of hers has long been on my mind. This was before I had a first book, when I heard her say this. It’s interesting when you’re not aiming for your poem to live forever while every poet around you seems to be. It’s like everyone was aiming to write the immortal poem, and I was like, “Who told us that, that that was the most important thing in the world? I’m going to die, so why can’t a poem?”

- Jericho Brown, in conversation with Michael Dumanis over at The Bennington Review. You can read the whole thing here. (Please just read the whole thing already - it's wonderful!)

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