Originally from St.Louis, drea brown completed her PhD 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.
Final Blog Post
I’ll begin with a confession. I think it has taken so long to write this final blog because in doing so, I have to admit the world I’ve returned to, full of its own responsibilities, is not a longwinded dream that I will wake from rocking in a chair on porch surrounded by blues and beauty, and the occasional mooing cow.
My last week of Fresh Milk was filled with serenity and laughter, with art and bold amazing voices. I found myself waking with pieces of poems in my mouth that stumbled onto scraps of napkins while coffee brewed. I rambled to Fresh Milk artists/team about all of these imaginings, all of these stories that kept unraveling. I shed layers and layers of fear, and leaned into the encouragement, and openness of those I’d come to cherish and respect.
A few days before leaving Barbados, I went to the Barbados Community College BFA portfolio art show, a major event in town, and walked around with my mouth gaped in a amazement from the intense beauty on those walls, the dismantling of taboo and stereotype, inquiries of identity, music, color, masculinities, sisterhood. That night, those walls, the sounds, the film shorts, still buzz in my head. I am eagerly anticipating what comes next for the bold emerging artists.
My last evening with Fresh Milk was also the night of artist talks and a gallery walk. Kraig Yearwood’s creations and residency experiments lined the walls and posed in corners. And, I was so inspired by the way he let go, and let his art decide the journey. There was such truth in that, surrendering to the will of the work. I was learning something similar, how to listen, how to see, and let my hands move as they desired. I read from new poems that night, and there were moments where I found myself surprised by the words I’d written, but they needed to be shared. And there is more to come.
I write this knowing I will be back. It feels impossible not to return. There’s more to be done.
This residency is supported by the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies