Podcast • September 30, 2009

Whose Words These Are (5): Jericho Brown

In anticipation of the 2009 Massachusetts Poetry Festival, where does poetry come from these days? And where is it going? Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Jericho Brown. (35 minutes, 16 mb mp3) Jericho ...

In anticipation of the 2009 Massachusetts Poetry Festival, where does poetry come from these days? And where is it going?

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Jericho Brown. (35 minutes, 16 mb mp3)

Jericho Brown was born and raised in Shreveport, but did his growing-up in New Orleans. Library daycare introduced him to Shelley’s love poetry; the black church introduced him to call-and-response testimony and poetic performance. Fresh out of Dillard University, Jericho wrote speeches for New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. But poetry kept calling. In his new book, Please, Jericho channels the powerful voices of the great girl singers of pop — Diana Ross, Janis Joplin, Minnie Riperton and others — to write his unique strain of love poetry. Jericho teaches poetry at UC San Diego; he is spending this year in Boston, as a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Q: Give us a signature poem.

A: “Track 5: Summertime, as performed by Janis Joplin.”

Q: How do you see yourself in the great poetic chain of being?

A: I always hope to be the love child of T.S. Eliot and Langston Hughes. [They] had my aunts Lucille Clifton and Louise Glück raise me, and then I got old enough I went to a college with only one teacher: Jean Valentine.

Q: Who lives in your poetic neighborhood now?

A: Katie Peterson. Dawn Lundy Martin. James Allen Hall.

Q: Who are the ancestors you have to live up to?

A: Langston Hughes. When I write and do the things I do all day everyday I wonder if he would be proud. Are these the things he would patron in any way? His essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” was freeing for me. His legacy is one I aspire to everyday.

Q: Who do you think of as fellow travelers in other mediums?

A: Daniel Minterlook at his images. He is amazing. I hope that my poems sound like what Daniel Minter’s art looks like.

Q: What talent do you covet that you don’t have, yet?

A: Singing.

Q: Who are your favorite singers?

A: Donny Hathaway. Freddie Jackson, Jeffery Osborne. Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross. I like singers who have a story attached to their singing. Not just biography, but a story.

Q: What’s the keynote of your character as a poet?

A: My favorite color is orange. I try to get that color out in all of my poems.

Q: What’s your motto?

A: “The world is ugly but it is our job to make it sexy.”

Podcast • January 19, 2009

New Orleans as a Recovery Model: Ned Sublette

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Ned Sublette. (35 minutes, 16 mb mp3) Ned Sublette: new conditions… new music The conversation here, on the eve of the great deliverance at noon on Tuesday, dwells ...

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with Ned Sublette. (35 minutes, 16 mb mp3)

Ned Sublette: new conditions… new music

The conversation here, on the eve of the great deliverance at noon on Tuesday, dwells on one of the signature scars of the Bush era, the wounded city of New Orleans. One last swift kick on the Bushniks’ way out the door is the least reason for engaging the resonant Ned Sublette. More to the point at the start of the Obama regeneration is Ned’s take on New Orleans as an endlessly absorbing pattern of American complexity — this most African, most Caribbean, most European and most peculiarly and expressively American of all cities (not least, Ned writes, because it has been for so long “the pride of American music.”) At a national turning-point New Orleans is a model of how battered societies, even enslaved people, re-discover the human essentials and re-invent themselves… how we learn to make music again. “Music is so much more than entertainment,” as Ned says:

Something I have learned concretely at various times in my life (most graphically after the flood that took out New Orleans in 2005) is that after a rupture, when things come back and they’re not the same, the new conditions will ultimately create new music. But in the short run, what you want is to hang on to your past. You want to find a continuity with what went before. The first thing we wanted to know after the flood was if Fats Domino was okay? Would there be a second line again? Would there be another jazz funeral? Would the Mardi Gras Indians come out on Mardi Gras Day? It was of key importance for the survival of New Orleans — not just black New Orleans, but New Orleans as a whole — that that happened. That is a small reflection of the feat that enslaved Africans accomplished in the new world pretty much everywhere they were taken…

Ned Sublette in conversation with Chris Lydon for Open Source, January 16, 2009.

Ned Sublette’s foundational history, The World that Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square, has just been named 2009 Book of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.