Derrick Brown’s latest book of poetry, Our Poison Horse, will not disappoint long-time readers and newcomers alike. If you haven’t heard of Derrick Brown, you may recognize his small press Write Bloody Publishing. He has published rock-star-esque spoken word poets such as Portland’s bright Mindy Nettifee, Seattle’s eloquent Elaina Ellis, the ever-touring likes of Buddy Wakefield or Andrea Gibson, and the profound Anis Mojgani. You can search the full list of authors on Write Bloody. Take a chance, pick someone you’ve never heard of, and I can guarantee you will find a poet worth knowing. Never heard of Tara Hardy? Maybe try her after you pick up Brown’s latest work. I found my way to these writers through the prolific Andrea Gibson. Try to find a greater storm of a poet with a more devoted fan base than Gibson, whose work (or any of the other on Brown's list of publications) will punch you in the tough at least once .
Before purchasing Brown’s Our Poison Horse, I perused a copy in Powell’s Bookstore. I was mainly familiar with the other poets he publishes, but after hearing him perform twice this past year, I knew I needed more. I broke open the fresh spine and bible-dipped to find a random poem. The first one my fingers landed on was titled “The Ruined Life” and I followed suit, reeling from the opening stanza:
Your life is ruined
when one person becomes a loved, low song
and you stop searching
for new music, convinced it will all sound the same.
It’s simple to believe that one might only find love once, if that–or at least that's how Brown’s words spoke to me reading his lines at Powell’s Bookstore. I realized I had stopped truly searching for new music when the first notes of my only real relationship failed three years ago, and i was too afraid to fall flat once more. It’s been easier since then to let crushes implode, rather than bloom into something with the potential for beauty.
In early January, I took my own copy of Our Poison Horse on a warm vacation. You know, a bit of light reading with the sand between my toes. What I unknowingly brought was a strange catharsis to help remind me that love is worth more than a single try. That reminder further came in the form of the poem, “300 Bones,” which fortuitously immediately follows “The Ruined Life.” In “300 Bones,” Brown details the life of the unluckiest man alive, Roy Sullivan, a seven-time victim of lightning strikes. The lead character has a unique outlook as indicated in the following lines:
But I’m glad it happened.
I feel strong. I feel strong the way you feel strong from love,
and I see now that I can’t go
until I get it all out. I am so full.
Sullivan wasn’t ready to give up yet, and neither am I, on the love we can share with others. In the lambasting title of another of Brown’s poems, “THE YAWNER IN THE BACK OF THE VENUE, ROLLED EYES, THE EDUCATED SMILE, THE NUDGED RIBS, THE SENTIMENTALITY; SENTIMENTALITÉ AND MELODRAMA PUSS, LENDER OF LEFT HOOK, A SOFTNESS; ZACHTHEID! AND OUR WILLINGNESS TO BE SUCKERED” – I would be identified as the melodrama puss, or the sentimental type. Or both. Back to “300 Bones” in a later stanza Brown writes:
I stopped reading the bible
And started believing in miracles—
alive is a miracle.
Your life is medicine to someone.
You gotta go find the sick.
It reminds me to keep searching the sick out. We all need and deserve a little healing along the way.
Our Poison Horse has rightly gained traction amongst the critics and the public alike. PDX Magazine has a great write up, including some excerpts. Janet Fitch, the author of White Oleander, said that, “I love Derrick Brown for the surprise of one word waking up next to another. One moment tender, funny or romantic, the next, visceral, ironic and relevatory–here is the full chaos of life. An amazing talent.” Other standout poems, to name a few, are “Places You Should Never Kiss,” the titular “Our Poison Horse,” and “Sour Mash.” Be sure to get your own copy and learn more about Derrick Brown. You can also listen to a recording of the poem “Our Poison Horse” on BACKWORDS blog’s Soundcloud and on PBS.