The Friday Poem ‘Voice’ by Jeffrey Brown

 

Walking west on 40th Street, between 7th & 8th, you pass the entrance to the CCNY Graduate School of Journalism. In the space of a city block, those aspiring to pursue a career reporting the news, cross paths with the the best in the field @work in The New York Times building.

There was a time when the most trusted man in America was a television journalist. Today, journalists across the globe find themselves at risk when reporting the truth. ‘Fake news’ sites proliferate where fiction replaces fact.

Lost in the cacophony of the latest news cycle is the value professional journalists provide in our society; collecting and communicating information that empowers the rest of us to make the best decisions.

This week, The Friday Poem is for those who follow their dream to newsrooms around the corner, and around the world. ‘Voice’ was written by NPR journalist and poet, Jeffrey Brown.

Voice

for Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer

There are those with a voice so rich,

so bell-strong, time chiseled, and alive

they can read the phone book and

you will hear the deeds and failings

in every name, the laughter and wailing

of ghosts who inhabit each address,

the infinite possibility

 

in every number. There are those

with a voice that rich, he says –

the lucky ones. But that is not us.

We open our mouths and out comes a

small, high sound, cracking midsentence,

straining to tell the story we know

to be true. There are things you can do:

 

Learn to breathe. Stand up straight and

let the air flow through you, belly to

chest and into the mask of your face.

Take a bit of chocolate, sip on your

coffee – excite the senses. Imagine

the people in their hoes hungry for

dinner and for news of the world.

 

Underline phrases, emphasize what

should be emphasized, diminish

the less important. Decide what is

important. Be sure you understand

the meaning of what you are to say.

Do not yell, do not whisper, look ahead,

not down, fill your lungs, open your mouth

 

and speak. The Zen master says “You

find your voice when you find yourself.”

But that, too, is not for us. (Who knows

What else you’ll find there? he laughs).

Better to listen to that voice

as though from afar, as though it

is not yours. Then speak again.

Jeffrey Brown from ‘The News:Poems’ 2015

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‘Poetry and Prose’ a poem by Jeffrey Brown

The Friday Poem this week comes from the 2015 collection, ‘The News: Poems’ by PBS Newshour chief correspondent for arts, culture and society, Jeffrey Brown.

In an interview with guest host, Susan Page on the Diane Rehm show, Mr. Brown shared the passion that has existed in parallel with his day job.

“Well, I wrote poetry long ago, you know, in my 20s and I had a brief period of writing quite a bit at that time. And then, I wrote off and on with a lot of offs, you know, for many years at a time over the next 30-some years. There were periods where I would get into it and write poems and periods where I’d just simply stopped. This all came in quite a rush, actually. It was collecting things that had been out there and then putting a lot of them together in a fairly quick period, but, you know, I don’t want to say I wrote it all quickly ’cause a lot of it was written over decades.”

There are times in your career when the most important thing you can do is say no to a job offer. In ‘Poetry and Prose’, Mr. Brown offers us a gracious way to say no.

Poetry and Prose

After much

reflection

I have decided

to respectfully

decline

your offer.

I am grateful

you were willing

to put your

confidence in me.

And there was

a big part

of me ready

and eager

to take on

the challenge.

But I am

unable

to meet your

requirements.

Jeffrey Brown   ‘The News: Poems’ 2015

 

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