The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: Brandon Jordan Brown on the Legitimacy of Art

2014 Emerging Voices Fellow Brandon Jordan Brown writes about his love for poetry and the confidence boost he received when he was awarded the fellowship. 
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“When I was first considering applying for the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship, I already knew that I had things I wanted to say. I knew that words meant something, that when you strung them together with care and integrity, they became something big and strong and clever and frightening and sometimes ugly, but always holy. Always meaningful. Always poetry. 
Sometimes I have to remind myself that poetry is legitimate. I need encouragement and reminders to talk myself into opening the laptop that was given to me by a friend because I didn’t have the money to buy a new one. These reminders can come to me in the form of a lady pulling up in her car across the street from my house, popping her trunk and yelling “Tamales!” Other times, they come as I remember my grandfather quoting lines from poems that helped him make sense of the world around him. Maybe a poem will be born from the temporary fascination with the blood and bits of apple that mixed in my childhood friend’s mouth when I accidentally hit him in the face with a golf club. But these reminders all share a common thread – they appear as I am living my life in my world in the only way I know how: by being me. And these reminders, when weighed and filtered and turned over in my hands, become art, and I feel it. And sometimes other people are kind enough to spend some time with my art, and they feel it too. And we can connect over that feeling. And that is legitimate.
Whether we realize it or not, everyone is searching to make meaning out of things: the sights, sounds, and memories that we encounter. And this isn’t because we are writers (at least not completely). It is because we are human beings. 
Being accepted into this fellowship has given me the confidence and opportunity that I needed to call myself a poet. I was fully convinced to follow through with the application process after an Emerging Voices panel discussion at Skylight Books in Los Feliz, California. Every alum, mentor, and current fellow spoke out about the benefits of this program and how it absolutely provided what they needed to take their writing to the next level. I spent what seemed like endless nights after work, hunched over my application and writing sample at my dining table. 
When I was granted the fellowship, I remember telling people that it didn’t feel real, that I had tricked someone, that soon people would see more of my poetry and realize they had invited some imposter into their program. But time and time again, during author evenings and through talking with alumni, I have been affirmed and reaffirmed as possessing the talent and ability to continue making meaning of my world, ‘tapping people on the shoulder,’ and inviting them to look at a few pages or listen to a few words. 
It feels nice to be reminded sometimes that art is worth it. And it’s amazing what it does for a young writer to be told that they are legitimate.”
Brandon Jordan Brown was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in the South. He moved to California to pursue his MA in theology and currently lives in Los Angeles. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Day One, decomP, and The Bakery, and he is writing his first book of poetry, Viking Ships in Los Angeles