Originally from St.Louis, drea brown is currently a PhD candidate in African and African Diaspora Studies at UT Austin. Her work has appeared in a variety of literary journals most recently Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander and Southern Indiana Review. drea is also the winner of the 2014 Gold Line Press poetry chapbook competition judged by Douglas Kearney. Her chapbook dear girl: a reckoning was released in 2015.
When I was awarded this residency at Fresh Milk, there was a thrill that ran through me that there are not yet words to fully describe. But I can tell you about the rush of colours that came with it. There was gold in my chest, flecks of it covering my hands, a red in my palm that was too brilliant to look away from; for days I dreamt of blues I had never seen. And then, a whirlwind of days, an early morning flight, and somehow I walked right out of the halls of academia and back into my poet self, off the plane and into a welcomed rainstorm. Ready or not. It is still all settling in.
This is the end of my first week at Fresh Milk and already it is moving too fast. Each day I have been writing and working to devour a stack of carefully selected books: Caribbean short stories and poems, books about tracing ancestry, about leaning into the spirit, about shadows and ghosts, and making space to hold it all. At night when the sky is black and the cat has crept in and the fireflies are the only outside light, I listen to the deep sigh of horses and give thanks for this opportunity to breathe salt air and spread out in stanzas.
I am grateful. An immense thank you to the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas in Austin, for the continued push, uplift and support in my scholarship and in my art. Thank you Fresh Milk Team, Katherine and Annalee who quietly add to my corner stack of books, who continue to help me open and relax and let go of worry. I am grateful for the Orisha and my Egun, who each day helps me survive and shine.
I came here with a plan. But, the poems that have come since my arrival are not the poems I intended. Each morning I make my way to the studio listening to leaves murmuring in the early breeze, I sit at a blue desk facing windows wide open to a winding hillside, and the poems come. Sometimes they are unwelcome visitors knocking for entry, sometimes to write them is comfort, but at all times they feel necessary, like work I am continually called to do. They are long—pages and pages of unfurling stanzas, raw and full of secrets, ragged line breaks; they are not the poems I imagined. But poems, like the ghosts that live in this ink, want what they want, and who am I not to oblige.
Dear reader, Phillis Wheatley will not let me be. I have made peace with this, and realize in some ways to write these poems is to work toward my own healing. The blues of the studio, its tables and doors and corner rocking chair, the blues of Bathsheba in the east, of Accra in the south, they remind me of this. And so I write and read incessantly, at the studio, in my flat, with my feet in the sand near lapping water, as if it is the only way to breathe. Perhaps in this second week, that is what it has been—a way to let go and take in again and again.
What Audre Lorde said remains true: poetry is not a luxury. It is a tool of survival, a means to find some kind of freedom.
This residency is supported by the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies