The Tradition

Copper Canyon. Apr. 2019. 110p. ISBN 9781556594861. pap. $17. POETRY
OrangeReviewStarBrown's third collection (after The New Testament) pulsates with the acute anxieties of racial and sexual difference, the psychologically complex intersections of personal intimacy with social responsibility ("I'm sure/ Somebody died while/ We made love. Some-/ Body killed somebody/ Black. I thought then/ Of holding you/ As a political act.") and the inescapable legacy of violence and pain intrinsic to vulnerable lives in an unjustly constructed world ("The way anger dwells in a man/ Who studies the history of his nation"). A consummate craftsman, Brown conveys emotional and provocative content through plainspoken yet subtly lyrical forms whose delicacy only heightens the subversive force of his ideas, which can be delivered with unabashed, declarative candor (e.g., water lilies "are good at appearances. They are white").
VERDICT Though many poems here risk intruding on some readers' comfort zones, Brown's uneasy fusion of art, conscience, eroticism, and rage—like any serious poetry worth close attention—aspires to greatness within the fragmented immediacies of our historical moment while suggesting a shared human destination: "A poem is a gesture toward home." [An editor's pick, LJ 2/19, p. 23.]
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