Brown, a comedian as well as a poet, started writing poetry when he was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in 1992. Today, he is president of Write Bloody Publishing, a press that focuses on work by poets who are also stage performers.
For National Poetry Month, Brown launched “Goodnight America,” a weekly series of live performances on Zoom that combine poetry, comedy and lullabies. Past shows have featured Brown’s poetry with performances by Cold War Kids, comedian David Cross and Jay Buchanan from the band Rival Sons. April 30 will be Brown’s last National Poetry Month performance of “Goodnight America,” but he plans to take to Zoom again over the summer.
Brown spoke recently from his home in Long Beach, Calif., about finding joy in quarantine and the transporting nature of writing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Question: What are some of the things that have been difficult during quarantine?
Answer: I went to visit my mom to walk her dog. To not be able to hug your mother when you’ve done it all your life is a very distant feeling.
Another thing that’s hard is money. I’m a person that made half of my income from putting on bigger and better live [poetry, comedy and storytelling] shows, and I never imagined the audience just vanishing like it was the rapture. And here we are. I was someone who kind of pushed back on doing digital shows, [but] it has forced me to be a little more creative.
Someone wrote that they were in the ICU watching the show. So, it’s a great wake up call for me to be like, “Hey nothing for you is hard right now.”
Q: How do you find beauty when painful things are happening around you?
A: That’s one of the great things about poetry. I don’t always have to write about what I’m feeling. They say that if you force a smile, sometimes it ends up bringing you joy. And as a poet or a novelist, you can write persona pieces and imagine or recall a time that brought you immense joy. It’s almost like jumping on a plane and going to the island in the back of your mind and vacationing there for a little bit, and it actually makes me feel good. So, that’s kind of a neat thing to realize in a dark time.
In a dark time, it’s important for me not to ignore the heavy stuff. It’s also important for me not to treat sorrow and tragedy as a candy that I’m fueled by. [I can’t] ignore the miracle of being alive.
Q: Tell me about what has been bringing you joy.
A: Our neighbors built these raised-up planter beds, and our dog loves to chase [the neighbor’s dog] through those things, like a corn maze, and it is such a joy to watch. Lizzy [my fiancee] and I have been writing pop songs. I’ve been riding my bike as far as I can to see when my body will give out. I never really gave myself the time to go as far along the beach as possible. When you figure out how to give yourself permission and time, that feels like a magical thing.
Q: What have you learned about your creative process during quarantine?
A: That I work best when the muse is ready and when my brain is ready. I was always pushing myself and submitting and trying to put new books out. I used to force it, and now I have learned this kind of beautiful peace that comes from listening to my creative juices and where my body is. When I can wait and get settled and feel that spark, my quality goes up tenfold.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: You see someone putting on a show online and they might be scared to charge five or 10 bucks for it. I think it’s important for artists to know that most people want to help and they respect what you do.
Do some Googling. Figure out how to start an Eventbrite page and take tickets. Get your sound right, get your light right, and then put on something beautiful that they’ll never forget. People are hurting and they’re lonely and they need your art.