Visiting Poets

Jericho Brown

Jericho Brown leans on a wooden beam, looking directly into the camera. Photo credit: Stephanie Mitchell

In his third and most recent collection, The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press, 2019), JERICHO BROWN focuses his attention on the black queer body, bringing both terror and beauty to the fore in his formally inventive poems. Maya Phillips writes, “In Brown’s poems, the body at risk — the infected body, the abused body, the black body, the body in eros — is most vulnerable to the cruelty of the world.” The Tradition (a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award) is preceded by The New Testament (Copper Canyon Press, 2014) and Please (New Issues Press, 2008). Brown’s poems have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry. He is a recipient of a Whiting Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Brown is an associate professor and director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University.


Co-Sponsored by the Smith College Lecture Committee, the Department of Africana Studies, the Department of English Language and Literature, and the Program for the Study of Women and Gender.

Select Poems

The water is one thing, and one thing for miles.

The water is one thing, making this bridge

Built over the water another. Walk it

Early, walk it back when the day goes dim, everyone

Rising just to find a way toward rest again. 

We work, start on one side of the day

Like a planet's only sun, our eyes striaght 

Until the flame sinks. The flame sinks. Thank God

I'm different. I've figured and counted. I'm not crossing

To cross back. I'm set

On something vast. It reaches

Long as the sea. I'm more than a conqueror, bigger

Than bravery. I don't march. I'm the one who leaps. 


— From THE TRADITION (Copper Canyon Press, 2019)

I begin with love, hoping to end there.

I don't want to leave a messy corpse.


I don't want to leave a messy corpse

Full of medicines that turn in the sun.


Some of my medicines turn in the sun. 

Some of us don't need hell to be good.


Those who need most, need hell to be good.

What are the symptoms of your sickness?


Here is one symptom of my sickness:

Men who love me are men who miss me.


Men who leave me are men who miss me

In the dream where I am an island.


In the dream where I am an island, 

I grow green with hope. I'd like to end there.


— From THE TRADITION (Copper Canyon Press, 2019)

They open in the day and close at night.

They are good at appearances. They are white. 

I judge them, judge the study they make

Of themselves, aspirational beings, fake

If you ask me. If you ask me, I'll say no,

Thank you, I don't need to watch what goes

Only imagining itself seen, don't need

To see them yawn their thin mouths and feed


On light, absolute and unmoved. They remind

Me of black people who see the movie

About slaves and exit saying how they would

Have fought to whip Legree with his own whip

And walked away from the plantation,

Their eyes raised to the sun, without going blind. 


— From THE TRADITION (Copper Canyon Press, 2019)

Poetry Center Reading

Spring 2020