I first heard Bill Brown’s name when Jeff Hardin gave me a list of poets I should be reading. More recently, I witnessed Brown’s unique style while introducing TJ Jarrett and Matthew Guinn during a deeply moving reading at The Southern Festival of Books. The tone with which he spoke about the two authors was mindful, for he was intensely conscious of the words he had chosen to describe and honor the artists. Bill Brown was born and raised in Dyersburg, TN, and he has given back to our beloved state through his writings, his 20 years of teaching English at Nashville’s Hume-Fogg magnet school, and his time lecturing at Vanderbilt University. Brown has written five poetry collections and three chapbooks, and he has appeared in the Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. The following poem is featured in Brown’s most recent poetry collection, The News Inside.
There should be hope in the leaves’ first turning—
summer green fringed red and yellow, webbed
hands reaching out against the curtain’s blue.
Winter and what it takes from the heart
is almost worth it. Year by blessed year,
in the shortened days, something is stolen
that cannot be reclaimed—a swelling in the chest
when night comes soon. At a certain age
a man takes a season’s beginnings, the small
beauties—frozen rings on creek rocks,
the first skein of ice in the horse trough.
He holds it to the morning sun and it burns
his palm as it drips through his fingers.
Each year he grips it tighter to see
his face melt in the fire.
This poem was too timely to pass up, as it reflects the current season with vibrant hues on floating leaves and too-early sunsets, cutting our autumn days shorter and shorter with every passing week. I was drawn to the appearance of the poem with its minimal and clean three-line stanzas, but as always, the words drew me closer. “There should be hope” about the changing color of the leaves, but the autumnal tone serves as a solemn reminder that this season is a swift one. Winter quickly follows, and with it, brings the end to another year. The reader senses, that to the poet, there is more than just flora to be lost in the winter, “Year by blessed year,/ in the shortened days, something is stolen.” Maybe we age the most in the sunless days of those colder months, often pouring over the past and wondering if the future will look any different. Yet, even though the narrator is aging and his “night comes soon,” he’s still seeking out the loveliness in the different changings of the season. I envision myself right along beside him, gripping my slab of ice–making sure that I can feel this moment. For I too hate to see the years melt away, but I ache to honor these physical indications of change.
For a review of Brown’s 2008 poem book, Late Winter, an interview with the MTSU literary project, a Chapter 16 featured interview, and two different links for poems (Still Journal and Chapter 16), click on the highlighted phrases.
On this Veteran’s Day morning, Chapter 16 has featured Brown’s poem, “When the Dust Settles;” please take a moment to reflect on his poignant piece about lives that have been touched by war. Thanks, and thanks again.