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Poetry as Tool of Transformation: Mahogany Browne First Poet in Residence at Lincoln Center

Photo courtesy of Mahogany Browne

CLARA-SOPHIA DALY, HOST: Mahogany Brown is Lincoln Center’s first-ever poet in residence.

She believes poetry is a tool for transformation.

But Browne does much more than write poetry. She’s also the executive director of Just Media, a media literacy organization.

And she has authored several books including Black Girl Magic, Chlorine Sky, and “I Remember Death by Its Proximity to What I Love.”

A key part of her residency at Lincoln Center is putting on poetry and art events – Including the Woke Baby Book Fair – a celebration of social justice children’s books.

Through her work as a curator she’s focused on giving voice to underrepresented poets – including children and artists from black and brown communities. Many of these artists are first time performers at Lincoln Center.

This summer will mark a year into her residency. So I spoke with her today about her practice as a poet and curator and asked her what it means to her to be the first-ever poet in residence.

MAHOGANY BROWNE: I think what it means to be the inaugural poet in residence at such an institution is that I get to dream a bit differently and I get to challenge the status quo. I get to remove the hinges from the doors that have swung against the marginalized voices and assure that they feel welcomed and centered and seen in such an illustrious space.

Looking at ways in which we can challenge our ideas of what art should be or should look like or can be, or who gets to speak for art. Challenging those ideas with our curation and showing that it can be a young person. It can be someone who's still in school, it can be a houseless person. It can be a person who's having a hard time with literacy. It can be in another body being like those of all those different varieties and characteristics. They make up the voices that changes art

DALY: So a year into the position or almost a year into the position, I'm wondering how things are going. And maybe you could tell me about a moment over the past year where you were able to, you know, push the envelope and sort of addressing the blind spots that have existed.

BROWNE: I'm always thinking about ways in which I push against those margins, push against the genres and really expand my discipline. So I had a baby book fair, and at the baby book fair, we read diverse literature to kids, toddlers, and preteens….We had so many folks show up just to read to the kids. So that was a really fun moment.

DALY: That’s awesome. I kind of wanted to go back a little bit and see, you know, because I gave you a bit of an introduction, but I would love to hear how you like to describe yourself as an artist because you do so much more than just write poetry, as you say. And I was wondering how you like to describe yourself.

BROWNE: I have a good time getting lost in all the things… but I guess if there were titles I would say, curator. Organizer. Writer and author, poet, performer, educator, and coffee lover. That's important. That's its own little bracket

DALY: Awesome. Yeah, I think that's like a perfect transition into a question I had, which is, you know, what is your process for writing your poetry? What does that look like for you?

BROWNE: I try to keep a regular practice of writing, but I also do a lot of commission work… So it's a mighty dance. It's a mighty dance. I'm still learning the choreo.

DALY: Totally. So amid this sort of, you know, chaotic dance and so much going on with organizing these poetry events at Lincoln Center, is there a poem that you turn to in times of sort of chaos or distress that might ground you?

BROWNE: I guess it will always be the classics for me, which include Lucille Clifton's Won't you celebrate with me today? Something has tried to kill me and has failed. So I love that poem as a touchstone.

DALY: What is it about poetry that you feel is important and what do you feel it provides to society?

BROWNE: I reckon it's a transformation tool. It acts as both stage and platform for the voices that are constantly muffled and raised. It acts as a mirror for those things that we refuse to look at, that we try to hide in the shadows.

And it acts as a guide. A guide to some sort of some resemblance of piece, some resemblance of power, some resemblance of equality and equitable, equitable life

DALY: Would you read a poem for us that, you know, maybe has been on your mind lately in regards to everything that's been going on in New York? Just something that you feel that you want to read today?

BROWNE: This has been sitting with me for a bit. This is the honey. There is no room on this planet for anything less than a miracle. We gather here today to revel in the rebellion of a silent tongue. Every day we lean forward into the light of our brightest designs. And cherish the sun. Praise our hands and throats. Each incantation. A jubilee of a people dreaming wildly, despite the dirt beneath our feet or the wind pushing against our greatest efforts. Soil creates things. Art, births change. This is the honey. And doesn't it taste like a promise? When your heart is an accordion. And our laughter is a soundtrack friend. Dance to this good song. Speaker1: Look how it holds our names. Each one of our flesh homes sings. Welcome. Oh, look at the gods dancing. As the rains rain against a steely skyline where grandparents sit on the porch and nod at the spectacle and all of the perfection on their grandchildren's faces. Each small discovery is unearthed in its own poor. Tomorrow, our daughters will travel the world with each poem, and our sons will design cities against the backdrop of living museums. Yes, our children will spend chalk until each equation versus a familial tree rooted in miraculous possibilities and alive.

DALY: That was Mahogany Browne, poet in residence at Lincoln Center.


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