Saturday, November 5, 2011

Introducing Nick Paradise

Although rapper Nick Paradise is Yonkers based his sound and indefinable style can't be pegged to one specific region and his energetic delivery, unique flow, word play, and youthful good looks are rapidly gaining him an impressive following from Yonkers and beyond. Coming off his win as one of the top 10 finalists' spots in the Diesel/55DSL Talent Show in New York City and in preparation for the release of his mixtape No Vacation scheduled to drop in early 2012, Nick Paradise sat down with Immunization Against Invisibility to rap about his future in the rap game, Open Oven Music, and Tumblr fame.

Invisibility Against Immunization: Is Nick Paradise your real name?
Nick Paradise: No.

What is your real name?
My real, whole government name is Timothy Thomas.

How did you come up with Nick Paradise?
Nick Paradise came about when I was on a conference call with my team Double O. They said, "We have a name for you...Nick Paradise," and I said, "Wow, I like that."

Out of the blue they just said Nick Paradise?
Yeah, out of nowhere. They were just throwing out different names and they were like "Nah, I like Nick Paradise." I said, "But that has nothing to do with me; Nick –that's not my name," and they said, "Nah, don't worry about it; that fits you." And that gave me this ego boost like I have a name nobody has and people are going to be like "Oh Nick Paradise; I never heard that before."

I read on your Tumblr that you're African-American, West Indian, European, and Cuban. Has your multicultural upbringing influenced your music? Or is it just who you are?
Honestly, that's just who I am. I haven't been enlightened to the impact that my past has had on me, but somewhere down the line I'm pretty sure it does have an impact.

You're from the Yonkers –born and raised?
No, I'm from The Bronx. I just live in Yonkers. I was born and raised in the Bronx.

What represents a Bronx sound to you?
Honestly, who I am now as far as my name and things I've done so far I don't think people can depict me as having a sound. They might say "Where's this guy from?" When I'm in Yonkers they look at me a certain kind of way because they know I'm not from that area at all. I dress differently. My demeanor is different so they kind of look at me funny. But as far as music you basically get depicted by your style, your swag. If you just look like a wack dude you most likely are, sometimes, but looks can be deceiving.

All rappers aren't logophiles (lover of words), but it seems like you are. I can't think of any rapper that ever used the word "behoove" before like you did in your freestyle over Jay-Z and Kanye's "Otis" track. And your rhymes are heavy with word play. Where did your love of words come from?
I'm going to start by saying this –I graduated, but back in high school it was something about people's diction that annoyed me. I would hate when people said things incorrectly and I would always correct them, so I got depicted as an English major and they were like "You're a young English major," and I was like "Nah, I'm trying to help you out; I'm beneficial to you." My favorite subject is English, so that pretty much helped me as far as rapping. I write poetry as well. I'm diverse. I have story lines and all different types of scenarios.

You're part of a team called Open Oven Music. Who and what is Open Oven Music?
We're more than a team; we're more like a family. I see a team as a group of guys who want the same thing but they don't have any chemistry or fun time, it's just one main objective. However, with Open Oven Music, we're a family. We actually spend time with each other, hang out, go to the studio; we do things as a whole. Even right now I feel that they're with me.

When you put out an album is it going to be like the Wu-Tang Clan?
Nah, we're going to have a few duo albums. There are nine of us. It's me, Dre Charles –that's my little brother, Anthony King, Prince Adam, Shynze, KoNiko, Lyric, Queenie Catora, and Demetrius Martinez. We all are solo artists, however when we want to link up it will be like a Dre Paradise or King Paradise thing. We're all solo artists, but we may do things as a whole as well.

You describe yourself as a rapper, music producer, poet, fashion designer, and a visual artist. Which came first?
Honestly, I believe visual artist came first. I used to draw sneakers. That was almost like a phase, but that is where it really started. I was always musically inclined, so at the age of 12 I got this game, I don't know where I got it from or what happened to it, but it was a game that basically gave me tutorials on how to make a beat and I got inspired from there. Even though the beats were pretty horrible I admit, now that I see my progression. My older brother was rapping before me and he inspired me to start rapping. I always knew I had this something about me. That is what the females say, too, "It's just something about you," and they never really specify what it is

What rapper has influenced you the most – musically or fashion wise?
I'll use current day rappers. I get referred to as a sort of replica of Kanye West because of my swag and word play and Andre 3000 because he's just deep and it goes over a lot of people's heads, but that's all due to society nowadays. That's a whole other story.

Do you have any favorite poets?
My favorite poet is Langston Hughes; I've been very inspired by his work.

Since you have so many talents like rapping, poetry, where do you see yourself in the next five years --doing music? Or just doing everything you possibly can?
Honestly, I just see myself as an entrepreneur because I don't ever really want to stay on one thing. That's what a lot of people do nowadays. That's why I feel a lot of people are disrespecting hip hop. They settle for that and everybody is doing that and that shows other people like "I can do that, too," or "You know what let me do that; I don't have anything else to do." They use it as a hobby when it's more of a lifestyle. And they want to get upset and be mad at the world when they aren't successful because there isn't heart behind it. I've been around music all my life.

What do you hope to bring to the rap game?
Well I have a current song where I say something like "You're trying to see how far the game will take you, the difference is I'm trying to see how far I can take the game." I just want to come into this and bring the game with me. I'll go ahead of the game and do something outrageous and bring the game with me. I don't want to be brought up with the game. That's the biggest impact I want to have. I want to be a legend.

Where can people find you on the Internet?
You can find me on my Facebook fan page and my twitter is @IamNickParadise. I don't really publicize my Tumblr because a lot of people on Tumblr get a lot of "love," but it's all a gimmick. It's almost like a MySpace. You can put up a front, put on two different outfits, take a few couple pictures, and they get reblogged and when they see that they're like "Oh wow people really love me." But it might not be you they love. They could love your camera, the sneakers you got, your background, your house. I don't want that Tumblr fame. The amount of reblogs I get, that will come. I'm not fiending for that. That's not something I desire.

Friday, February 27, 2009

You Might Find Cures Between These Pages

Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder
Review by Missy McEwen

Karen S. Williams' debut poetry book Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder dedicated to "the late Dr. Clarence Livingood, former chief of dermatology, Henry Ford Hospital Detroit, Michigan," is a poetry collection of "wonderfully made" poems about medicine and midwives, diseases and doctors and death, cures and childbirth, studies and science and surgeons, and hospitals and healing. Thus, Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder is not an easy read. These poems demand the reader's full attention as Karen S. Williams focuses on topics about smallpox, yellow fever, syphilis, keloids, and anorexia:

"The way the epidemic chewed and swallowed.
Onesimus had seen the horror...
The victims clothing
must be torn off, he heard, tossed
into a flame...
To cure it, some thought would be
a leap of faith, a move beyond
Bostonian cure...
But in Africa for displaced Guramantese,
for its lost son, slave Onesimus,
it required using a prickly thorn,
a hard known briar know to rend flesh
or a twig astutely shaped
a sharp, sharp knife." -- from "Onesimus' Twig" Birth of the smallpox inoculation

"Mosquitoes like these from Hispanola,
troll about ships,
flit and foul in Eastern bogs...
They cluster and breed,
still the quick and walking..." -- from "At First Frost" for Black clerics...whom lead black volunteers to serve the sick during the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia.

"Soon, I won't remember the quiet, petite girl:
brunette...with the lazy eye. She

reminded me of my friend except that
she was white...

She spoke to me in whispers
dulled by cheap wine, her

warm, breathy words
making me forget about prophylactics,
vivid canteen posters that spelled
'Syphilis is Death'...
and said that my French woman
may look clean-- but
there is no medicine for regret."-- from "French Letter" For African-American Soldiers with Syphilis during WWI

The poems in Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder are thick and heavy with history, importance and remembrance. Remembrance of doctors such as Dr. Daniel Hale Williams ("…performer of the first open heart surgery in 1893") and Dr. Kenneth Clark:

"Dark and stiff,
in perfect line,
boys and girls enter the room...
One by one they look at the table
I have placed mid-floor,
burdened with brown and white dolls...
I give the children basic instructions,
shake each tiny hand and say:
'Hello. My name is Dr. Clark.
What I would like for you to do
is look at the table filled with dolls.
Show me the doll you think is nice,
then show me the doll you think is bad.
Then after you do that, show me
which doll looks like you.' -- from "The Doll House" For Dr. Kenneth Clark

Karen S. Williams' Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder published by Willow Books, Aquarius Press (2008) cannot be summed up by quotes pulled from the text. It is one of those books that has to be owned and read in full, read thoroughly (you might find cures between these pages). A poetry book packed with so much knowledge and insight should be in every house and on every desk in every schoolroom and can be purchased at

To learn more about Karen S. Williams go to

Friday, February 6, 2009


Blood Ties & Brown Liquor
Review by Missy McEwen

Sean Hill's Blood Ties & Brown Liquor is divided into four sections and the pages that are used for the sections' titles resemble the backs of postcards and the cover of the book is like the front of a postcard (cover illustration: Detail of McIntosh Street by Frank Stanley Herring). Even the feel of the book (glossy, smooth to the touch) reminds me of a postcard. It is as if the reader has been sent a postcard, not just from Milledgeville, Georgia, but from another century and the poems are what is scribbled down (in the neatest handwriting) on the back, written by the relative with a knack for writing and storytelling. He sends you postcards about "Red-brown" Benny:
"Benny's handsome, red-brown like rust on a hoe…
The day is empty like a cicada's husk clinging to a tree,
empty like sound after the mule's kick when Benny falls, free
of this place then the hum of a bee and cry of a Jay.
Benny's skin red-brown like rust on a hoe is empty
as a cicada's husk clinging to a tree." -- from "Elegy for an Older Brother 1922"
He sends well-written, poetic postcards about the "..Georgia heat," "Silas & Mulberries 1917" and "Nigger Street 1937":
"McIntosh Street the sign reads
like the apple red but not
red delicious red but red
like redeye gravy on grits
at Gus's or red like stoplights
but they're also green and yellow
like apples in Allen's Market
on the corner…" -- from "Nigger Street 1937"
Postcards of memories, mostly memories:
"In the spring of '43 you went
to the prom. There was a band…
Lucien Walker spun records. You'd sewn your
own dress---white with bright red apples.
Your father didn't allow you to court.
Said you had to invite a girl. Your date was
Lucille Jackson…" -- from "#5: Going to the Prom"

"When I asked, you told me this quiet family lore.
I didn't do no courting worth nothing
cause daddy was so strict
. In May of '44
when you were seventeen--an innocent thing--
wouldn't be eighteen for seven months yet,
you eloped. Said: He lived right cross the street
there right cross the street
." -- from "#6: Courting"
Blood Ties & Brown Liquor is made up of "records," and "certificates of death and birth" and life -- life as it was in Milledgeville, Georgia, a town with mockingbirds and Flannery O'Connor's grave (there's a poem about it -- "In Memory Hill Cemetery"). In Sean Hill's book, the reader sees, hears, and feels Milledgeville and its people:

"Hear those cicadas building and falling
in rounds? Ain't as soothing as the steady
buzz of bees. Sounds like the whole church
testifying or a car's whine when the belt's
loose..." -- from "Milledgeville Evening Song"

"There was this high yellow man,…
lived up the road/from us when I was a boy…
He raised bees for honey.
[His wife] made candles from the beeswax." -- from "Milledgeville Evening Song"

"All night heavy moonlight dampened
echoes of the curfew bell that rang us in.

Nathaniel stole the little cool
from the late August night that touched my skin

the way the silver I polish and my mistress's
looking glass on first touch took the warmth of my

curious finger…" -- from "Milledgeville Aubade 1831"

Fiction it may be (the back of the book has a blurb about the poems in Blood Ties & Brown Liquor being about "the family of the fictional Silas Wright, a black man born in 1907"), but the feelings are real; the characters are real; the town is real (Sean Hill is from Milledgeville, Georgia). Sean Hill has created a civilization and I forget that Silas Wright is fictional. With an imagination like this, I cannot imagine Sean Hill ever having writer's block. Sean Hill's Blood Ties & Brown Liquor is innovative, creative, and inspiring.

To pick up a copy (and cop-a-feel -- the book's feel is awesome) of Sean Hill's Blood Ties & Brown Liquor, published by The University of Georgia Press (2008), go to (There you will find a list of places where Blood Ties & Brown Liquor can be purchased). And to learn more about Sean Hill go to:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I A I Discusses Poetry with Jericho Brown

Jericho Brown, currently an Assistant Professor of English at the University of San Diego, is the author of Please -- his first book, published by New Issue Poetry & Prose.

IAI: Please is your first book; how long did it take for it to come together?

Jericho Brown: The oldest drafts of some poems in PLEASE were written in 2000, and I wrote them when I first attended the Cave Canem workshop/retreat for African American poets. Some poems' first drafts were written in 2007, the same year New Issues asked to publish the book. But seven years seems a dishonest answer when I think of how I'm prone to reading and thinking more than to writing itself.

In the last eight years of my life, there were times I couldn't stop writing. Over a short period of weeks, I'd have many drafts of very different things and begin to think I may be quite literally possessed. Once, I actually had a car accident trying to get some scribbling done while driving. These periods were thrilling for me, but during them, I felt vulnerable in a way I have a hard time characterizing to some of my closest poet friends.

At other times, for periods as long as two years within the last eight, I didn't write at all. I couldn't even think to revise. This is, of course, painful and scary in a very different way. Today, I think I managed to get through these silences because I was much more interested in figuring how to write poems than I was in how to write a book. I had no goal other than the poem itself and could almost satisfy my yearnings to write by reading and discovering other poets.

IAI: You teach creative writing at the University of San Diego; how do you teach creative writing?

Brown: In addition to fashioning a classroom that investigates and hones craft, I help undergraduate students develop themselves as men and women who think about literature and appreciate art. To that end, students read poetry manifestos written by such canonical writers as Wordsworth, Eliot, Oppen, Hughes, Rich, Gl├╝ck, Howe, and others. Students then write their own credos and manifestos in order to begin thinking about what they deem aesthetically valuable. In every class, I emphasize the relationship between writing well and reading broadly, the relationship between sharpening critical skills and polishing creative skills. Students participate in what I call "field work," searching out recent issues of journals as different as The Southern Review and Fence, and scouring these magazines for poems they feel must exist and poems they had hoped did not, all the while familiarizing themselves with contemporary poetry. And, in order to highlight the orality of the art, students memorize and recite poems in class throughout the semester.

In the workshop, I guide students in analyzing poems for specific strategies, naming each as a tool that the poet uses to establish emotional depth, to make for musical pleasure, or even to incite humor. Following thorough discussions, students write imitations modeled after giants including Wallace Stevens, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Frank O'Hara, Etheridge Knight, Lucille Clifton, Jean Valentine, Rae Armantrout, and David Kirby and more recent contemporary poets, such as Tina Chang, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Ben Doller (nee Doyle), Thomas Sayers Ellis, Beth Ann Fennelly, James Hall, Sean Hill, Jay Hopler, Douglas Kearney, Joseph Legaspi, Richard Siken, Natasha Trethewey, Rachel Zucker, and others. In class and in several conferences throughout the semester, we discuss the ways students deploy these tools in their own work.

IAI: Are the majority of your students poets and writers or are they students taking the class as an elective?

Brown: Even on library bookshelves, poets are never in the majority.

IAI: In schools, teachers tend to teach the same poets over and over again, such as Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes. Are you a fan of Plath? Dickinson? Hughes?

Brown: I'm pretty crazy about all three of those poets, but as I mentioned in my earlier answer, I don't think of them as the only poets.

IAI: If you were in charge of choosing the poet laureate for the universe, who would you appoint? Why?

Brown: Maybe I'd get Oprah Winfrey to do it because she'd bring a lot of attention to poetry itself, and since she doesn't seem to know a lot about poetry save for the verse of Angelou and Giovanni, she very well may hire really good poets to advise her on how to handle the job.

On the other hand, I'd probably appoint myself for fear of making the wrong decision by picking Winfrey.

IAI: When did you decide to become a poet?

Brown: I don't remember not wanting to write. While growing up, I always thought I'd have what adults termed some kind of a "real job" and then retire from it in time enough to do what I always wanted to do in earnest. As my relationships with my family became more and more strained in my very late teens, I began to understand that I didn't have to wait to have, do, or be anything I wanted. An example of this was my choosing English as a major while an undergraduate at Dillard University. I convinced my father that the major was best for those planning to attend law school, but I knew I just wanted a major that would allow me to read and think about poetry and fiction.

IAI: I always imagine a poet living like this:

"We walked down the path to breakfast.
The morning swung open like an iron gate…

We trotted back and forth to readings….

Someone was always hungover,
scheming with rhymes…"

At the bonfire, we flamed with words…"
-- from "Green Night" by Edward Hirsch
How are you living?

Brown: I'm grateful that I've been traveling a lot in order to fill requests that I give readings. Most of my recent life is centered around meeting really interesting people from all over the nation who love good poetry. Also, I try to make sure I have enough reading to do on planes since I spend so much time on them.

Other than that, I go to the gym a lot. I eat a lot. I talk with friends over the phone a lot. I teach a lot and read a lot in preparation for teaching. I usually go clubbing when I get the chance because I like flirting and dancing.

IAI: From the same poem, the line: "It was a green night to be a poet in those days/we didn't care if the country didn't care about us." Do you care?

Brown: Yes, but I have low expectations when it comes to this country caring about its poets. Maybe that will change now…who knows?

IAI: Finally, on a different note, I love the library; it is still a magical place for me. Is it for you?

Brown: Of course. Free books are more than magical.

Jericho Brown's book was recently reviewed on Immunization Against Invisibility.

You can learn more about Jericho Brown at

Jericho Brown's Please, published by New Issues Poetry & Prose (2008), can be purchased at and

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Armadillo

For the Love of an Armadillo
Review by Missy McEwen

In the pages of For the Love of an Armadillo by Didi Menendez (illustrated by Jeremy Baum), a delicate love affair (between The Armadillo and the narrator) takes shape. It is a love affair that is complicated and simple at the same time -- simple because they enjoy each other's company and are there for each other; there is no arguing, just dancing and watching television together, eating together, and sometimes kissing, but complicated because, for the narrator, there is conflict. The narrator is afraid she might be falling in love with The Armadillo. In the first poem of For the Love of an Armadillo "Armadillo," the poet writes:

"I am not sure how
the armadillo found
his way into my life…

I tell myself
not to feel
for the armadillo.

No respectable
woman my age
should feel for
an armadillo."

The illustration that comes before "Armadillo" is of a woman with an armadillo in her chest, next to her heart. The book carries on in this fashion -- the artwork (illustrated by Jeremy Baum) that precedes the poem complements the poem, so the reader gets a visual picture, as well as a poetic picture, of the developing relationship between the narrator and The Armadillo. In some of the illustrations featuring The Armadillo, the reader sees his 'stache, his stare, the smoke coming from his cigarette. It is not hard to believe why the narrator may be feeling for and falling for The Armadillo. She even gave him the nickname "Armadillo." But even though she knows him well enough to give him a pet name, she does not know him well enough to know his real name. In the poem "Armadillo and Andalucia," the poet writes:

"His real name may be Harry or Richard or Tom.
I don't know because he never offered to tell me.
I never asked.

I never ask Armadillo anything.
He never asks me anything either
except for the occasional what's for dinner?"

She does not know his real name, still she cooks him dinner as though she wants to be something more to him. She does for him as a mother would. In "Armadillo's Shoes," she tells him to shine his shoes. She gives him the polish and she spits on the shoes for him. She even wants to "knit him a sweater," but by the end of the poem, she wants to be more than a mother figure, she wants to be a lover; she wants The Armadillo to kiss her. The poem ends with these words:

"…kiss me Armadillo.
I want you to kiss me…hard."

And the poem that follows begins with the words "Armadillo only kisses me/when there is a full moon/or when it rains." This poem "Armadillo's Kisses" comes after the illustration titled "Conquest," and because of this sequence, I get the impression that the narrator has made her move, has given up trying to fight her feelings for The Armadillo, and The Armadillo has somewhat surrendered. But still she is taking it slow, maybe, not wanting to scare off The Armadillo by rushing things. She knows "never to serve/him snails al ajillo because snails/remind him of his first love." She takes what is given and does not ask for more. He kisses her, but only when it rains, only when there is a full moon. There is a limit to his love. Maybe during these times (of rain and full moons) he becomes sentimental and kissing is the only thing that will do.

In Didi Menendez' For the Love of an Armadillo, there are moments of tenderness, moments of longing, moments of passion, and moments of friendship. For the Love of an Armadillo is a classic story of a love affair told through poetry and pictures. It is a great read.

For the Love of an Armadillo, published by Goss 183::CASA Menendez (2008-2009), can be purchased from, and soon from Amazon and other online bookstores.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jemeni Interviewed

Born in Grenada, raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, but now lives in Toronto, Joanne Gairy, better known as Jemeni, is a woman of many talents. She is an actress, poet, radio host, and writer. She is also married to "words" and "words" must be infatuated because Jemeni has a way with words:

"I already know you're having an affair with words, but, boo, i'm married to it. My vocabulary leaves most men wary. I need to know: can you get into it?

Would you let me lick you with alliteration and tie you up with
similes? Give you pain and pleasure with soliloquies until you beg me for release. I think we can have the ebonic plague solution. Lace me with your lexiconic seed and in nine months we can start to raise the revolution." -- Jemeni's verse from Esthero's "Fast Lane"


IAI: Is Langston Hughes still your favorite writer in the entire world?

Jemeni: Yes Langston Hughes is still my favourite writer always and forever. His work to me was so poignant and beautifully, unapologetically, heroically black. I love his exploration and celebration of his people, sores and all. Or as he put it:

The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express
our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame.
If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not,
it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too.
The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people
are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure
doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow,
strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain
free within ourselves.
I LOVE THIS MAN!!! I mean what's f*#%ing with thaaaat???

I also love his story, who he was, what he came through and what he stood for. His swagger was impenetrable, which is not to say that there aren't a great many writers that I also love and admire (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Nikki Giovanni, Zora Neale Hurston are some of my favourites). It is just that there is always that one person who stops you in your tracks and makes you silent. For me, that's always been Langston Hughes.

IAI: What poet, dead or alive, is overrated? Underrated?

Jemeni: Honestly, there are poets I don't dig, or don't get but I respect that it's about perception and time and perspective so I can't say they are overrated just because it doesn't speak to me. I guess that to the masses that rate them it means something. Besides who does it hurt to overrate a poet? I'm not mad at that.

Underrated? Tough too...I guess I can speak on poets who I think are dope, but maybe the world isn't on yet. Right now my low pro poet fantastic is my home girl Mansa Trotman; her stuff is fluid and soft... right before it kills you.

IAI: I'm sure everyone has heard, by now, your piece "No More Dating DJs." Would you date a poet?

Jemeni: lol! In my mind, sure, I date poets every day. Dope poems make for great pretend boyfriends. All lyrical and witty and no toilet seat left up. I'd never say no; talent is attractive and words turn me on, but it can be tough dating someone who does what you do. It makes it too easy to see through their bullshit cuz it's the same colour as yours.

IAI: Do you write poems for the stage or the page?

Jemeni: This is weird, but I write them for the page -- by performing them into existence like I would for stage. They write themselves with rhythm, but their true calling is for pages.

IAI: I read somewhere that you said: "I don't ... see myself as a poet as much as I do a storyteller." What's the difference?

Jemeni: That came from trying to figure out exactly what it is that I do -- radio host, actor, writer, poet, performer, and I sometimes pop up in songs. To me storyteller encompasses it all. Even in radio, I was telling the city's story every morning. I wasn't raised on poetry, but culturally storytelling was a big part of my upbringing. We didn't do bedtime stories, but Saturday mornings I remember running into my parents' room to hear ananci stories and tales about jumbies and soucouyants and the dreaded la Diablesse. Poetry is a fascinating form, but I'm not always interested in poems. Stories are different; I've always loved a good story. I love telling them in whatever form is available (acting, recording, poetry). And I love experiencing them in any form (movie, TV, great book, in person).

IAI: What emcee today could have been an accomplished poet in his/her past life?

Jemeni: Mmmmm...emcee…Papoose and Kanye and it'd have to be my girl Esthero -- that's a bad bitch right there; a redhead word gangster.

IAI: Anything else you want to add?

Jemeni: Just thanks for having such an interest in words and reaching out. And to whoever takes the time to read this or check out my work -- I want them to know it means a lot and I'm thankful.

You can read Jemeni's work in Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam, edited by Tony Medina, which can be purchased at

You can hear her work on Esthero's latest CD Wikked Lil Grrrls.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Please That Sounds Like Music*

Review by Missy McEwen

Please by Jericho Brown is set up like an album cover -- liner notes, track listing and all. Moreover, the book itself is like the stereo (Please is split into sections: Repeat, Pause, Power, and Stop). And just like the stereo and how it is the medium for music/musicians, the book is the medium for poems/poets.

In Please, music and poetry collide (some poems share titles with songs: "Lush Life," "Summertime," and "Song for You") in a compelling way. Similar to the singer that sings about love, all kinds of love, Brown writes about love and its many forms, such as violent love:

"My mother loves her husband
and his hands
even if laid heavy against her." -- from "Again"

Jealous love:

"Keep looking at my man
and I'll cut you a new eyelid" -- from "Autobiography"

"You see
your man approached by a girl whose hair is longer
than her skirt…
my mother/calm, but close to violence, she-wolf set
to claw and devour." -- from "Betty Jo Jackson"

Man and man love:

"In a fast-food line
one man pulls a penny
from another man's

grins too wide a grin,
and pays the extra change.
The boy standing behind

the register takes my jealous
stare for one of disapproval
and shakes his head at me

to say, I hate faggots
too." -- from "Lunch"
familial love:

"He kissed my forehead
before covering me
on the couch that was my bed…" -- from "Again"

"My father's embrace is tighter
now that he knows
he is not the only man in my life…" -- from "Like Father"
and sexual love:

"And you can hear them
in the next room
planning names for the youngest of us
then making love loud…" -- from "Again"
In Please, love is oh baby I love you and/or bruises. Fists inflict pain, words inflict pain, and so does music. "Nothing hurts/like old R&B" Jericho Brown writes and I believe him because music, just like lovers, can bring you down one minute and soothe you the next. Music is mighty. When "the sirens are on the way" and everybody's hollering, the people in Shreveport, "learn to listen to music" over the noise. Music saves if no one else does:

"The singer seeks an exit from the scarred body
and opens his mouth trying
to get out" -- from "Pause"

"I belt out…this tune…
I should be thankful
I…[can] moan…
so nobody notices I'm such an ugly girl.
I'm such an ugly girl." -- from "Track 5: Summertime as performed by Janis Joplin"

Love, music, hurt are the themes in Please. But music seems to be the inspiration behind most of the poems. Jericho Brown writes, "There is no such thing as background music" and this is true. When music is on, we listen -- whether it be the instruments that move us or the voice. Poetry and music go hand and hand; music can move the poet to write and poetry can move the musician to create songs with lyrics fit for a poet. But whereas music can be felt right away, can hit you instantaneously, poems hit you slower. Some poems have to be read and then reread. But not these poems. The poems in Jericho Brown's Please hit you right away and make you say, "Wow," make you pause, make you close the book to take a break to recuperate from the blow. Please is a strong book of poems -- strong like a man's fist, strong like love, strong like music. Press play and give Please a listen, er, a read.

Jericho Brown's Please, published by New Issues Poetry & Prose (2008), can be purchased at and

*From Jericho Brown's poem "Track 5: Summertime"