Elizabeth Lewan, Assistant Editor, Rappahannock Review: We understand that Jack is a recurring character in a poetic sequence. Who is Jack, and what significance does he have to you?
Kevin Brown: Jack shares some characteristics in common with me, in that he’s a middle-aged man who is beginning to realize his own mortality. However, I really wanted to examine how people deal with that aging process when they don’t have the typical support around them. Thus, Jack doesn’t have many friends, he’s not close to his family, he’s not religious, and he’s in a dead-end job that he clearly does not enjoy. This poem comes later in the development, as one of his few friends has died young, forcing Jack to truly begin to come to terms with his future death.
EL: What inspired you to first start writing your memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again?
KB: The memoir was inspired by conversations with students and recent graduates. They were telling me their story, and I was trying to help them deal with questions about their faith and their loss of faith. As an English professor and writer, my first inclination is to give someone a book to help them deal with such questions. I couldn’t find one that worked well, and a shortened version of my story seemed to give them some sort of comfort, in that they were simply glad to hear someone else had gone through the same religious struggle and come out on the other side. That motivated me to write about the journey I’ve taken so far.
EL: What, if any, connections do you find between poetry and memoir? How do you decide which genre to work in for a particular topic?
KB: My poetry has become more and more narrative over the years, so memoir seemed like a natural evolution. My poems also struggle with being didactic, as I want people to clearly understand what I’m trying to convey. I have heard it said that one should write a poem to raise a question, while one should write an essay to prove a point. I try to use that as my guide when thinking about genre. That said, some sort of narrative tends to show up in everything I write.
EL: We were really engaged in your poem’s rumination on language and loss. Is all speech its own form of loss? How might one offer a more complex articulation of grief than the characters in your poem?
KB: I write a good deal about the breakdown of language, though I never intend to do so. Part of that comes from living in a society that distrusts language much more than we did in the past. Mainly, though, it comes from life experience and simply watching people try and try to communicate, yet not be able to do so. We might share a common language, but that language cannot cross all boundaries and barriers. In the end, there are feelings and emotions and maybe even life events that language simply cannot convey, which is why hospitals and funerals are two of the places/events we try to avoid. Our comment is almost always that we don’t know what to say. There are times where there is nothing to say, so perhaps a more complex articulation of grief is to say nothing at all, simply to sit with someone and try to live through the grief with him or her. Of course, as a writer, I feel the need to say something, knowing that something will always fall short.
EL: What are you working on currently?
KB: I’m not currently working on poetry, though I did write a series of poems earlier in the year based on neuroscience (pop neuroscience, I should add) and the breakdown of relationships (another one of my themes/obsessions). I’m always interested in exploring other areas of our world and seeing how those interact with the themes I almost always come back to. I’m also working on writing short stories right now, given my love of narrative. I’ve avoided it for years because I’ve never thought I was very good at it, despite my focus on story in poetic and essay form, but I’m enjoying writing them right now. I don’t know that they’ll ever amount to anything, but I like the challenge.
Kevin Brown is a Professor at Lee University. He has published two books of poetry–A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press) and Exit Lines (Plain View Press, 2009)—and two chapbooks: Abecedarium (Finishing Line Press, 2011) and Holy Days: Poems (winner of Split Oak Press Chapbook Contest, 2011). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again (Wipf and Stock, 2012), and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels (Kennesaw State University Press, 2012). He received his MFA from Murray State University.
Kevin Brown’s work in Issue 1.1: