In·ter·punct shares book reviews, art news, lit theory and daily musings from the intimate lives of writers. It seeks to highlight, in an edgy and sprightly fashion, the poetic moments that punctuate our lives.
I often find myself when reading a new book or viewing a piece for the first time wishing that I could sit down with the creator over a cup of coffee and just have a simple conversation about what they have made. To find out the purpose behind word choice, if there is one. To discover the reasons for certain themes, or just meet the person inside the work. I want to share that luxury with you in my conversation with Jordan Alan Brown, a Buffalo-based visual poet who has recently released his first micro-chapbook, “Man as a Cactus.” Which can be found online at https://ghostcitypress.com/2017-summer-microchap-series/man-as-a-cactus.
So, I give you my perspective of that conversation.
Presumptions: His work presented in his new book Man as a Cactus and interweb scoping drafted a silhouette of a slightly pretentious run-of-the-mill, newly graduated hipster artist. I was intrigued, however, by a sense of humility that was presented on his social media platforms. That, coupled with the stripped down feel that his work evoked, got me excited for what was bound to be at least an interesting conversation.
First impressions: I look up from my phone to see a tall black man, shoulders hunched, making his exact height difficult to estimate. Dressed for the brisk Buffalo pre-winter weather, but in an effortless almost throwback way. His wire rimmed glasses fit not only his face, but his unassuming nature as well. As he lowers into the seat opposite me, his posture suggests a calculated ease. Introductions do nothing to calm awkward nerves; an icebreaker is necessary.
S: So, first off, most important question; Cocoa Puffs or Fruit Loops, I will judge your answer.
J: With surprising confidence. Cocoa Puffs, always been more of a chocolate person. Also, then you get chocolate milk.
S: Why intermedia? Why do you feel that visual and/or poetry aren’t enough separately?
J: I’m at a loss for words a lot of the time and I’ve always liked photography. Of course I think it looks nice, but also I feel that photography and poetry are very similar in the sense that you’re trying to capture a moment. It did start out as an aesthetic thing, but I did feel a responsibility as an artist to have some deeper meaning, something behind it. I think it's very hard to get people to read poetry that don’t normally read it.
S: I noticed that you have described yourself as a novice photographer, why is that?
J: It’s all shoot by the hip, I have a couple cameras but I would never feel comfortable charging someone to shoot them. It wouldn’t be fair for me to say I’m a professional photographer. Quality of photos, a lot of time, are left up to things not in my control. I’m no Ansel Adams, I wish.
S: Where does Man as a Cactus come from?
I feel that photography and poetry are very similar in the sense that you’re trying to capture a moment
J: So, I was at this party once and there was this guy, I was getting super weird vibes from him. So I was very standoffish and he was like, “Awe, man you’re like a cactus.” For him, it meant that I wasn’t like, warm or opening up to him at all. But then I thought about it, being drunk and under the influence of other things, I was like, “Yeah, I am one.” I kinda grew up in an interesting environment. My parents were super religious. My mom still is, my dad is dead; so he’s not anymore. And it just wasn’t conducive to growing personally. All growth was based on God and faith and very focused on that being the only way to be a good person. So when I left that I had to cut all contact with everyone that I knew.
S: Were you mormon?
J: Close, I was Jehovah’s Witness, very close; they’re very similar. They don’t think they are, but a lot of their ideals are similar. Mental health has always been a difficult thing for me. Being black, mental health has always been hush hush, a very taboo thing to talk about. I was directed to, “Just pray about it.” That doesn’t work. So, there were just a lot of things. I felt like I was living in this desert and that I was trying to regroup and grow from that. Yes, cacti grow in deserts and they’re defensive in a sense for themselves to live, but they are also beautiful signs of life in an otherwise barren place. I think a lot of people can relate to that. It just kinda stuck with me and this book is my journey in to that.
S: Do you feel like grief is the most prominent cohesive thread throughout the book?
J: So there’s the grief part of it, but also coupled with the feelings of the strained relationship with my mother. Which is just something else to deal with on top of the grief. So I would say that grief is a large part of it, but also the healing from that. It’s normal, but it never feels normal. It will be a year this week that my father passed away. Like, I still want to pick up the phone and be like, “Hey what’s up?” What it has done has allowed me to focus the good qualities about my dad outside of the religion, being able to focus on his good qualities and now, I guess I have a different view on my dad then I did before.
S: So what’s next? Do you have another project in the works?
J: I’m working on something now, I’m hoping to have it done by the end of this year. I’ve been talking to Kevin at Ghost City Press. I asked him logistically what would he need to make a tangible book. He gave me some pointers, so that’s what I’m working on. I have like 15 pieces that are unpublished right now, that I haven’t put anywhere. I’m not sure what I’m gonna call it, I have some ideas kicking around.
S: Do we get any of what’s kicking around?
J: Look me up when you’re home. A lot of the pieces are about being away. Whether it’s physically or emotionally. I suppose a lot of the themes are much more forgiving, but there are some really heart-loving poems. I try not to be too thematic, but I think there is always a string you can find in there. There are some pictures from a recent trip to Paris that I’m hoping to incorporate.
In·ter·punct shares interviews, expositions, poems and daily musings from the intimate lives of writers. Like the interpunct, which is a middot used to separate syllables, this blog seeks to highlight, in an edgy and sprightly fashion, the poetic moments that punctuate our lives.