Meet Poet & Multi-Disciplinary Artist Jordan Alan Brown
@jordan-alan-brown is a poet and multidisciplinary artist from Buffalo, NY. I recently spoke with him about writing, art, race, and inspiration. He believes in the power of “visual poetry,” taking risks in life and getting some use out of his favorite word, “truly.”
Interviewer Mayah Taylor (@mayah) is Ello’s Community Specialist. She loves tacos, fashion, Doctor Who, and wears too much black.
How did you get started in Poetry? Did you immediately intend to share your work publicly or were you writing privately when you started?
I've been writing poetry for about ten years now. I used to have this weird stigma about poetry and what I thought it was. When I was in 11th grade my English teacher gave us the assignment to write a poem about an inanimate object, I wrote about a camera and the feedback I got from my teacher was so encouraging. That was around the time that I really got into writing, I started a Xanga account when I was a freshman in college and started slowly sharing my work. For me, I wasn't worried about sharing with strangers on the internet, I was more concerned about the people I knew reading it, but that's a whole different story.
As I read your work, I can sense raw emotion through your words. Where do you draw inspiration for your pieces?
I was never really great at picking a theme and writing about it, I'd be an awful fiction author. I have a few pieces where I try to write thematically or about a subject and they end up feeling so contrived. For me, writing about my feelings and experiences inspires me. I'm a fairly emotional person and so, I let that out in my work.
You often associate film photography with your pieces. When did you start doing this & what inspires the photographs associated with your words?
This is a question I get a lot and the answer is pretty lame. I was pretty active on Tumblr and I'd post poems pretty regularly but never get any real traction with them. I bought a typewriter one day and was looking through some old family photos and thought, "it would be really eye catching if I combined these two mediums."
That poem was my first to really stand out to people I think, just because of the look. So, truly it was just to get attention and about aesthetics. I can assure you that now, I've taken more artist responsibility, photography and poetry are so similar, they both attempt to capture a moment and tell a story through it. So now, I really strive to pair my pieces with pictures that really evoke a feeling or add to the poem. Admittedly, there is still an aspect of wanting my visuals to stand out and catch people's eye.
How would you define your writing style? Has it changed over the years?
I've struggled to find a way to describe my poetry to people. I suppose I would say if anything, it's lyrical and a bit of stream of consciousness. I'd like to say that now I am using a lot more literary elements in my work and that I am more refined as a poet. I've finally found my voice, I think it resonates with my audience, I've always wanted to have a distinct style like any artist. I want people to read my work without seeing the author and say, "that sounds like Jordan."
Writer's block is very real; a block for artists in general. What helps you relieve writer's block & what helps you sit down and write?
Sheesh, I'm dealing with a bit of writer's block currently. Most of the time it comes from getting busy at work and not giving myself time to sit and concentrate on my writing. I have to force myself to decompress and just start writing, I find that once I start writing eventually stuff flows. My advice is to just get into it, force yourself to write, paint, draw, dance, etc. and something great will come out.
Do you have a favorite piece you've written? If not, do you have anything you've written in the past that you particularly don't like?
I literally love and hate everything I write. I'm the type of person who the latest piece is their favorite, I do have some that are just like go to's for me though. I can't say if any of them are good to anyone else, but to me, they stick. It's funny because I find that the pieces I love don't usually do well with my audience. Most notably, I've been writing a lot about my relationship with my father, he passed in December, we had a bit of (sic) a strained relationship the last few years because of differing beliefs. Those have been really poignant pieces. Some of my favorites off the top of are "A Six Pack of Horror Stories Two Decades Beyond Relief", "Pale Blue", "I Also Do Not Know You". As far as pieces I hate, anything from 2013 or further back.
What do you believe you've learned about yourself in your time of writing poetry? What have you learned about the people you write about?
I've learned that I can be confident with my words and thoughts. I've learned how to process emotions and that I can be inspiring to others. Poetry has helped me be honest, for good or for bad. It's funny because although I use the word "you" in my poems, a lot of times I'm directing it at myself or a personification of a feeling. Sometimes I write from the perspective of others to myself though, that helps me understand their train of thought or to see things more objectively. I've learned that everyone, no matter how callous or mean they can be has a vulnerable side. I'm still learning about myself and other and it's truly fascinating.
Did you grow up in Buffalo? How do your surroundings inspire your writing and art?
I was born and raised in Buffalo, but I've taken the time to go other places and experience other cultures. I grew up in a multi-ethnic household, my mom is Italian and Irish, my father was Jamaican and Haitian. She was from the country, he was from the city. So, I got exposure to an eclectic mix of ideals. I also was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, I've since left the religion and been shunned, for lack of a better term. That makes interactions with my mother strained, and as I mentioned before the same with my dad when he was alive. That really has shaped my writing a lot. Buffalo was never really a destination city or a "cool" city while I was growing up, I've developed a weird underdog complex and I feel like I'm not a qualified artist at times because I'm not from New York or Chicago or San Francisco. I've gotten better at combating those feelings lately. I think the cold winters and drinking culture have definitely made a presence in my writing more than I'd like to admit. However, I try not to write with a regional scope, I want to have a global impact with my work.
You have the opportunity to sit with 3 artists/writers, deceased or living at any place in the world. Who would you meet and where would you meet?
I love this question, I'll probably sound like a sham when I answer this. Right off the bat, my mind goes to Conor Oberst. His lyrics are riveting, he's really a master at what he does. He captures the human experience unlike anyone else. Kendrick Lamar would be the second person I pick, he means so much to me as a black artist. His aggression and confidence are so breathtaking, he's a great storyteller and wildly intelligent. Kendrick demands that you listen to him anytime one of his records is on. I would love to learn to be so captive. Finally, and certainly not least, Pablo Neruda. I don't even know where, to begin with, Pablo. He's more than an artist or poet or activist. Neruda was unwavering in his beliefs and bold but also gentle in his writing. His words are like water, the can sustain you but also destroy you.
I spent some time in Japan a few years back, and when I was in Tokyo I frequented a section known as Golden Gai. It's teaming with life from every corner of the world and everyone is a little liquored up from the bars. That leads to just the most immense discussions about life, culture, art, and love. It's just a fun place to be an artist and to exist.
Red pill or blue pill?
You can follow Jordan Alan Brown on Ello, Tumblr, and Instagram.