KWH Pick of the Week: “Track 5: Summertime” by Jericho Brown, Chosen by D.A. Powell

Posted on November 12, 2012

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Knox Writers’ House Contributor’s Pick of the Week 11/12/2012

Track 5: Summertime by Jericho Brown in San Diego, CA

Chosen by D.A. Powell in San Francisco, CA who says:

The blues isn’t a form; it’s a mood. Built on the sorrows of repetition and the corresponding joy of breaking that sorrow-filled pattern, the blues carries its history on its back like a tortoise, and we can admire the way it lumbers under all that weight and perseveres. Blues singers pay homage to their forebears either by quoting familiar lyrics or by lifting the riffs and licks of older melodies. In “Track 5: Summertime,” Jericho Brown resurrects Janis Joplin’s free-wheeling, hard-edged voice as both a performance style and as a testament to endurance. In the poem, Joplin recounts growing up in her hometown of Port Arthur, TX, a place “worse to coloreds than they are to me” where “boys climbed a tree just to throw persimmons at me.” Brown’s poem also tells us of Willie Baker, who Joplin watches being whipped by a belt while Baker pleads for mercy. “Please.” The blues is not Willie’s song, and it’s not Janis’ song and it’s not Jericho’s song; it is a harmonic history of being hit, of bearing the bruise and countenancing bullies; it is a plea for mercy, a prayer; it is a belt landing welts on the skin and the singer belting back with her voice, his voice; the abiding idea of voice as in “a writer’s voice,” but also the unwavering voice itself. I am moved by the voice of Jericho Brown in every way.

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