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"

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