This coming Tuesday the Intro to the Profession class will have a visitor, Professor Lee Ann Brown. Due to a few difficulties with setting up an interview I settled for a phone call with Professor Brown. I was nervous, knowing I am awkward and uncomfortable with phones but glad to chat with Professor Brown again, whom I had met in April when visiting St. John’s for the first time. Tomorrow (Sunday), Professor Brown will send me some links to some readings she feels might be interesting for the class, but for now, I wanted to put this post out in the world before the words faded from my mind and I could no longer read my notes.
We started off chatting about her poetry, the main focus of our discussion. I found online some of her more recent poetry published by Salt Publishing ( http://www.saltpublishing.com/saltmagazine/issues/02/text/Brown_Lee_Ann.htm ). One of the poems, “Having a Margarita By Myself So Far and Preparing to Read Victor Hernandez Cruz again in a Fruitful Way” was inspired by the poem by Frank O’hara “Having a Coke With You.” I was very much impressed by the amount of observation required for the poem. However, when asked if this observational style was the way she would categorize her work, Professor Brown intimated that she tries to write in as many styles as possible. Her first book of poems was written in polyverse, and was aptly titled after its style: Polyverse (Sun&Moon, 1999). In another style, she is currently working on a project of North Carolina poems, inspired by her home state. These poems take in inspiration from anthropology, history, local histories and more.
Professor Brown seems to embody a flexible style, both in her writing and life. During her chat with me, she was accompanying her daughter on a shopping trip for material to make a Halloween costume. She spoke of a book by Paul Hoover, “Sonnet 56” in which Hoover took Shakespeare’s sonnet and rewrote it in 56 different styles. Professor Brown, when asked about her work style, said that she is always looking for a way to use ideas or styles that she finds in her readings. She always carries a notebook with her so that she can write down what she hears and sees. She is always “collaging things,” and writing “notes, notes, notes.” She said, and I paraphrase, “For example, I’m in midtown now, and I and sure I will hear something. I just keep my ears open.” In her teaching she is encouraging her students to find a way to write incrementally. To write more than just one poem for a class but a whole series of poems. She takes inspiration from Frank O’hara’s “Lunch Poems,” and encourages her students to find a repeating time to do their writing. Personally, I feel this can be applied for our own writing as grad students, be it creative writing or academic writing. Perhaps we are not all Semenzas who can sit down at our desk at 7am and work until 7 pm, but we can find a set, repeating, time in which to put pen to paper.
When you look at Professor Brown’s page on the St John’s faculty page, you will see that she has been quite prolific and not afraid to get herself published. (http://www.stjohns.edu/academics/undergraduate/liberalarts/departments/english/faculty/brown) I asked her about how she has gotten so much published. According to Professor Brown it has been a slow process, starting with individual poems in college then increasing to series of poems and eventually into books. Some poems written in high school were not even published until her 30s. A lesson to us all to keep trying and to start small and work our way up. Writing and publishing take both time and patience.
As the interview started to wind down we touched on a few more items that peaked my interest, and which might need to be elaborated in class if they catch anyone else’s eye. She has done a lot of work with film as well as poetry. In addition, Professor Brown really emphasized the “primacy of the oral performance of poetry.” She finds oral performance of poetry to be pivotal in her own work, and thus really believes in the importance of close listening and or poetry readings.
So, at this point one might ask why we are having a poet visit this class. This is because there has been a shift in recent years that has loosened the boundaries between poetic structures and academia. They are blurring into one another and can no longer be categorized solely in their individual boxes. It will be a pleasure to hear Professor Brown discuss this further in the class on Tuesday.