An Interview with Michael Brown Jr.


What was your inspiration for "When We Were Young"?

When We Were Young was written during the workshop I attended at Cave Canem, inspired by a day I had gone over to Webster and Tremont in the Bronx to help my mom with Thanksgiving shopping after being away from the area for so long, so when I went there and saw that a huge swath had been levelled for construction, I started reminiscing about old times. It had been a big hangout spot during high school for a friend, my brother, and I. We'd just stand on the corner watching the many goings-on around the neighborhood involving the local homeless population. There were many crazy things we witnessed worthy of a whole volume of poetry. 

If you had to choose one poem to be the only poem you would ever read, what would it be?

One poem? I'd have to say "The Banjo Player" by Fenton Johnson. It's a great poem, and lyrically it's stunning in conveying the feelings of an itinerant musician in simple speech without resorting to exaggerated dialect but maintaining a cadence and beauty to an otherwise unremarkable situation. The last two lines are particularly poignant and humorous, "But I fear that I am a failure. Last night a woman/ called me a troubadour. What is a troubadour?" I feel as though if I never read another line of poetry, I could read just those two lines for the rest of my life.