Jericho Brown’s The Tradition is a sharp shock of a book. Daring and lyrical, this collection examines issues of identity, race and sexuality, all set in the backdrop of modern American society. Brown’s defiant ‘I’ provides an anchor for this collection, grounding it with a deep sense of intimacy. Addressing himself by name in the poem ‘Dark’, Brown shifts to second person to confront his personal struggles with illness during the writing process:
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.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning collection stands as a bold testament to recovery, from both illness and violence. The poems began as an experiment to create a new form, blending sonnet, ghazal and blues to create the ‘duplex.’ Cutting up printed lines omitted from previous collections, Brown sprawled these fragments throughout his home and worked to piece them together to create something new. Innovation and breaking with tradition are thus at the heart of this collection.
Featherlight lines flutter and flow across the page, highlighting Brown’s eloquence even when depicting violence or pain. Although lithe in appearance, the collection is laden with symbolism and a richness of language. At times the poetry moves with a soothing lilt, others it is short and sharp, both exemplified in the poem ‘After Avery R. Young’:
Hooking and crooking or punching the clock,
It’s got to get done. That
Expectation. Stunning. Incantatory. Blk.
(‘After Avery R. Young.’)