Richard Avedon, a poem by Jeffrey Brown

Earlier this month, Emmy award winning journalist Jeffrey Brown published his first book, ‘The News: Poems’. The PBS Newshour chief correspondent for arts, culture and society was interviewed by Gwen Ifill on a recent broadcast and described his goal to tell the stories he reported “in a different voice with different words”.

“I am a hard-bitten news guy. I mean, that’s our world, right? We go out into the world, we see things, we tell stories, we meet people.

But there’s a side of me that loves literature, that loves poetry, that loves history, that loves ideas, that loves music. It comes out, I hope, on the program as well.

I started writing a long time ago. I wrote at different times during my life. I would write. I would pick up snippets from along the way.

I started realizing that I wanted to go back and look at stories that I had done and sort of rethink them, reimagine them, tell them in a different voice with different words. And I — it was just — it was — it was fun for me. It was interesting to do.”

He went back and looked at transcripts of old interviews and used quotes to create the scaffolding of his poems.

This week’s Friday poem reflects his conversation with the photographer, Richard Avedon.

“He said — and we did an interview late at night in the Metropolitan Museum surrounded by his grand portraits.

And we were talking, because this is a subject that fascinates me, as it does with him, anybody who has a camera in front of them. What does the camera tell you? Well, it tells you a truth, but it doesn’t tell you the whole truth.”

Richard Avedon

Look around you: all gone

all dead. The heavy-lidded,

snake-charmed, sunbaked.

The poets and actors, Capote

with the blotched face, Marilyn

in sequins, Beckett and one

of his drifters, the powerful

and the pretenders.

They stood before a white screen

as close to me as you are now –

a confrontation that will last.

Eyes closed tight and eyes alert.

Eyes ahead and eyes askew,

as though they knew not to stare

at the viewer – click! – forever.

All gone, all dead – forever.

That is why I call the taking

of portraits a sad art, he said.

The camera lies all the time,

it’s all it does is lie. But this

is no lie: over there, my father –

Sarasota, August 25, 1973,

staring at me, forever. He does

not age. But he will not return.

Jeffrey Brown, ‘The News’ 2015

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