Jericho Brown’s Please explores the way love and violence coexist and how the two sometimes intertwine. The collection of poems is categorized into four sections: “Repeat,” “Pause,” “Power,” and finally, “Stop.” The poems address themes of both psychological and sexual self-identification, Brown’s relationships with his father, mother, and lovers, and the process of taming a terrorized beauty.
The content of this collection is meaty and complex. Multiple readings are required in order to fully grasp the dense matter. The narratives are not meant to be relatable; Brown is illuminating a certain darkness uniquely portrayed in each poem. In “Detailing the Nape” Brown portrays a grandmother literally attempting to scrub the blackness off her granddaughter’s neck. This familial poem brings up issues of black identity, recognition, and avoidance. “Lunch” reveals quiet homophobia and misrepresentation in a fast food joint: “The register takes my jealous / Stare for one of disapproval / And shakes his head at me. / To say, I hate faggots / Too.” The poem “Betty Jo Jackson” shares a story that the speaker’s father repeatedly tells, a story about his mother standing up to a young vixen attempting to flirt with his father: “I guess you can tell / Why I’m so jealous of Betty Jo. She got / To see my mother back when she still / Wanted a fight.”
The collection of poems is moved fluidly along through the use of motifs of song and pop culture. Poems are often organized as tracklistings, such as “Track 1: Lush Life”. This aggressive and lusty piece illuminates hte physical and emotional abuse that can attach itself to sex: “You can’t tell the difference between a leather belt and a lover’s / Tongue. A lover’s tongue might call you bitch.” The poem delves into the sometimes smudged line between abuse and affection, juxtaposing the leather belt a father uses to beat his child and the leather belt a woman uses to beat a man in lust, in love. Brown uses the track listing motif from time to time, displaying a unique sense of form and a creating a melodic soundtrack that compliments his style, voice, and (heart)beat.
Brown’s forms are unpredictable. Free verse lines are played with differently according to the dictates of each poem. The variety enhances both the content and the visual clarity. Blocks such as “Track 1: Lush Life” are juxtaposed with “Scarecrow,” a piece that is segmented into five sections and switches from coupled lines to short blocks. The poem “Tin Man” is best described as constructed open field; it is divided in to three sections that could be read vertically or horizontally. This type of experimentation with lineage flirts with the danger of muddy meanings, but Brown executes this form of writing well. One can read, “In my chest / a slit of air. /Don’t say love,” or “In my chest. / Drop a penny. / Cities shine gray.” The poem works both ways and creates symmetrical white space for the readers to play with. In the poems, “Lunch,” and “Idea for an Album: Vandross the Duets” the lines are organized into tercets and couplets, respectively. This tight form compliments the straight-forward substance without distracting the reader with unorthodox line breaks.
In Brown’s Please, there is no quiet build up, only booming climax. The poet’s first collection of poems is masterfully presented with unique craft and conviction. Jericho Brown represents a truly monumental voice in American poetry. Please exemplifies brave and honest writing in a world that too often shrugs off or pushes away the controversial and the ugly.