Review: Please by Jericho Brown

Jericho Brown’s 2008 collection Please is a free-verse auditory adventure from the place where blackness and homosexuality intertwine. This is Brown’s first book, but not his first foray into poetry, having completed an MFA and being published in numerous highly acclaimed magazines. He has also worked as a professor and speechwriter in New Orleans.

Divided into sections titled like the buttons on a CD player, Brown often uses music and musicians as a backdrop for his experiences. The collection focuses on themes of shame, but since the tone is neutral and the imagery is varied, it does not feel overwhelming, nor like a pity party.

Here’s the statement from the book jacket, presumably written by the author:

Please explores the points in our lives at which love and violence intersect. Drunk on its own rhythms and full of imaginative and often frightening imagery, Please is the album playing in the background of the history and culture that surround African American/male identity and sexuality. Just as radio favorites like Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Pink Floyd characterize loss, loneliness, addiction, and denial with their voices, these poems’ chorus of speakers transform moments of intimacy and humor into spontaneous music.

My only criticism of the work is that his use of spacing is not necessarily successful. One poem in particular is divided into three columns, and totally baffled me until I realized it was supposed to be read horizontally and not vertically. Other spacing choices just don’t feel intentional.

I recommend this book for people who like cleanly-written, confessional-style poetry, and those who are looking for something a little meatier than a chapbook.

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