(i had originally published this Book Review in 2014, but before i went to jail i had deleted all of my posts from 2015. In celebration of #NationalPoetryDay i am re-uploading this review.-CW)
The rigid idea that poetry is created and consumed in seclusion, Derrick Brown proves, is only partially true. The first thing that struck me when reading his new collection of poems, Our Poison Horse, is the fact that Brown is well traveled. Also, the stories are filled with many personalities. This is a very people-centric collection of poems.
Whether it is a hug from a stranger, an encounter with a former theater teacher or a poem dedicated to the roller derby team from Portland, OR, The Rose City Rollers; it is made clear that Brown is influenced and inspired by many different people. Another final joy of reading this book was the Acknowledgements at the end. This section of the book extends 9 pages. If it was not already made clear by this point, this section drives home the fact that Derrick Brown is grateful for the people in his life and is a builder of community.
For someone like me, unfamiliar with Brown’s work, this was a very enjoyable read. I definitely plan on seeking out more of his books after the annual holiday wallet drought passes. The book is organized into 6 sections. The titles of each section read like micro poetry themselves: TO HOLLER AMONG THE LIVING, TEXAS ON A SATURDAY NIGHT, THE POET VS. TOO MANY DRINK TICKETS, DARKNESS: EARLY TO THE PARTY, WHY MATT TAKES OFF HIS SHIRT IN EVERY ART GALLERY and ROMANCE IS AN UNSUPERVISED GO-KART TRACK.
Perhaps my favorite poem, the one I immediately ear marked upon reading (apologies, I didn’t have a bookmark handy), is Sour Mash. This poem opens with the repetitious first word “and,” clueing the reader in that these thoughts have churned many times through the poet’s mind. This piece covers much ground from how strangers talk about the weather to the touring life of a poet to the fact that many poets don’t make a name for themselves until they are deceased. A line I really connected with is found in the middle of the poem: “and some of your friends realized that loneliness was power/and they slipped away.” At the conclusion, Brown eludes to God or some other deity who resides on “the other side of night,” and provides an awesome description of the stars.
Brown takes us with him on many of his travels but it is no understatement that the poet loves the state he calls home: Texas. We visit southern and northern California, Chicago, Oregon, New York and other various places. However, Texas seems to be where this poet’s heart is. He tells us he moved there because it is where his father was born. In All Hail The Kindness of Strangers, we find the poet ruminating on the things strangers do that make them seem less like strangers and inspire a feeling of belonging. In the first stanza, in somewhat of a tangent, the poet says “How will you handle it when the lady at the DMV asks you your profession,/and you try to tell her ‘full-time poet,’ but she doesn’t understand,/so she just stamps your application with the word/Pussy?”
Brown’s humor is something that starts off strong and remains intact throughout this book. This is very refreshing and personally, I was never taught in school that poetry could be funny. So it is great to be brought to the lighter side of things every once in a while. Especially when you’re dealing with a concept like the final and title poem that could perhaps be too dark, Brown’s humor and seriousness isn’t forced. It isn’t fake. I was impressed at first with Brown’s sincerity upon the first read. As I picked up the book for a second and third time, I was happy to see that it wasn’t just a good first impression. This collection of poems will endure. With Our Poison Horse, it is proven quite effortlessly that we have an honest and valuable voice when we look to Derrick Brown.
To purchase your copy of Our Poison Horse, via Writebloody, click HERE.