Poet Of The Week

Kim Brandon

     March 8–14, 2021

Kim Brandon is a poet, artist, activist and storyteller. This year, she is planning to publish her first collection of poetry, Red Honey, which is dedicated to her father. Her work has been performed onstage in three of the annual 50in50 monologue showcase events at Billie Holiday Theatre and in Came Back with a Clap Back: A Celebration of Women’s Voices by Emotive Fruition. Brandon’s poems have also been published in journals including the Hawaii Review, Peregrine and Mom Egg Review as well as anthologized in The Dream Catcher’s Song and Boundaries and Borders, forthcoming from the Women of Color Writers’ Workshop. She is a VONA alum and attended the Wild Seeds Writers Retreat in 2021. Brooklyn’s Borough President presented her with a citation for community service in 2018. This past fall, Brandon was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Jason Koo’s Silence & Sound workshop.

Author photo by Lem Peterkin

Love on the Front Line

 

five patients died today

what we wrap in sheets

what is disposable now

is a battle lost for humanity

finally, the day ends

time to head home

a reprieve from war

back to normal

there is a note on my front door

in purple magic marker

“Go round the back”

my family has set up

a tent with

a green hose

a bottle of orange soap

blue mouthwash

white towels

yellow plastic flip flops

a gray sweat suit

a second note—

from my husband’s hand

“We need you to sleep in the basement. Max is wheezing”

In the basement on a tray

at the top of the stairs

hot soup

chocolates

fresh-cut flowers

my favorite leopard pajamas

on the sectional sofa

a little pile of pillows

and a blanket

and a third note

in pink crayon with heart stickers

“Turn on the laptop, Mommy”

I open it, turn it on

there is my husband

“Hi Baby” tears are in his smile

the girls push in

they want screen time with mommy too

“We are going to love you mommy from upstairs”

they sing-song together

“Okay mommy?” the little one adds

with a rattle and a wheeze in her voice

I sleep with the laptop on

listening to the sounds of them.

 

—Originally published in Mom Egg Review, June 2020.

Brooklyn Poets · Kim Brandon, "Love on the Front Line"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

When New York was first shutting down because of the pandemic, I was talking to a fellow writer friend who told me that her sister, a doctor, stripped down and changed clothes in the front yard before entering her home every night. She wanted to protect her family. My friend talked about getting her a tarp or a tent. This poem was written for her and other frontline workers.
 
What are you working on right now?

I’m working on publishing Red Honey, my first poetry collection. I’m dedicating this book to my father, Charles Lindbergh Brandon, who was my safe haven and a joy to be around. Life was hard for him at times and he still managed a little sweetness and a bit of honey for us, his kids.
 
What’s a good day for you?

Wow—what a difference a year makes. A good day is when someone shares good news with me—any good news. I’m thirsty for it—we all are.

A great day is when there is a little bit of justice for people of color.

A great day is when I get to safely see a loved one in person.

A good day is when something or someone is so funny and I can’t stop laughing as I have a wicked laugh. It is all loud, gaudy and healing at the same time.
 
What brought you to Brooklyn?

My parents brought us kids from Baltimore, Maryland, to Brooklyn via Harlem. I believe I was four years old and I have been here in Brooklyn since.
 
Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I only remember living in Brooklyn—East New York, Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. I have seen many changes. I remember signing my first lease at twenty years old. Just minutes before Spike Lee moved some of his production space to the block. The rent was $210 a month for a studio in Fort Greene—what a deal! The landlord was kind and was looking out for people who were starting out. I was on this hip-ass little block for ten wonderful years. It is almost impossible for young people to set out on their own in Brooklyn now. I hope they catch a break, too.

I raised my kid on my current block. I remember an army of kids that used to play on the sidewalk; there were hopscotch games chalked on the sidewalk, bikes, scooters and ball games, and yelling kids having a good time. Sometimes I would lead them in a game of Red Light / Green Light or Simon Says—I was good for starting some old school games, especially when my daughter was little. It was a joy watching them grow. This block like most is a living poem. They are all but gone now; some families were displaced due to the high rents. Brooklyn has been sold to the highest bidder—someone called this the new apartheid.
 
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

I would say community defines Brooklyn to me. And it is a good thing. In addition to Brooklyn having such a bounty of writing / poetry groups, workshops, writing organizations and resources to support writers, Brooklyn also has so many ways to get involved with positive changes and have a voice.

For example, there is a woman on my block that gets folks to make one or two dozen sandwiches each week—that’s it. She then delivers them to a soup kitchen. She is up to about 400 sandwiches, fruit and other goodies each week.

There is a powerful organization called the Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP) that is fighting developers who are violating city zoning regulations to build more skyscrapers that displace our communities. Before COVID, I was one of a few dozen seat-warmers for this cause. We’d show up in court and fill the courtroom to support the incredible work of the MTOPP team. I loved that Brooklyn fights back.

I can go on about all the groups that make a difference to the Brooklyn community like the HOPE Dinner, which has met monthly for over twenty-six years to provide hope, community and good food to people living with AIDS / HIV.

Then there is social justice work that we have done as part of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. The effort I loved the most was a three-hour workshop we created based on Larry Adelman’s documentary film series RACE—The Power of an Illusion. We used history, science, poetry and song to unpack the myth of race. We even took this workshop on the road to Baltimore.

I simply love Brooklyn people. There is always someplace to lend your voice / experiences and even your poetry to help others. My favorite thing is sharing my storytelling and poetry in schools and at social justice events.
 
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

It means being with people who show up and help support each other as we are building our craft, our platforms, our voices. The Brooklyn Poets community is my come-as-you-are group to share the joy of poetry. Brooklyn Poets encourages varying voices, craft levels and poetry styles. It is a very welcoming community. I get so much from Brooklyn Poets workshops and the Yawp open mics. I started coming to the Yawp two years ago and have been a regular ever since.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

I’ll start with Jason Koo. I so enjoy his spirit, his humor, his dedication to poets and poetry. And his poetry workshops are amazing. I had the honor of receiving a Brooklyn Poets Fellowship in 2020 and attended Jason Koo’s Silence & Sound workshop. I can now appreciate the power of a short line and when a longer line or a letter poem might serve the poem best.

JP Howard, praise her generosity and her nurturing spirit. Praise her praise poems. Her amazing gift to poets is her monthly Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon. This is another stunning community.

Also Denise Bell, who passed away last month, introduced me to Brooklyn Poets and to Jason Koo. She also encouraged me to write poems in classic forms to help me build my craft. She gave me poems to read and poets to study. She held me accountable to the work. “Keep doing” was her tag line.

Robert Gibbons is another poet who took me under his wing and sat with me to study poetry. He is an amazing master poet who has always been willing to lend his powerful voice to my social justice events / activities.
 
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

Robert Gibbons, JP Howard, Jacqueline Johnson and Denise Bell. They all inspired be to be a better poet. Robert and Denise encouraged me to study classic forms and JP Howard, an outstanding community organizer, inspires me to create community and give with an open hand. Jacqueline Johnson is always generous with her wealth of information and experience. She has helped me understand the landscape of becoming a published poet.

I need to mention someone who is not a poet; she is an excellent writer, my friend Sister Bisi Ideraabdullah, founder of the Women of Color Writers’ Workshop. She has continued to encourage me to take the next steps in my writing time and time again. I have had the honor to attend many of her WOC workshops and readings.

Lastly, I need to include my writing partners in the Brooklyn Society Writers Group, especially Rita Wilson. We have written together for over fourteen years and she continues to be my ethical compass.
 
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

Mama Phife Represents by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor. This marvelous collection is a study in love. These poems keep reminding me to dig up the joys and memories of parenting as if they were truffles.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. Before we can end the American caste system, we need to study it and know where the seeds are planted and the roots are growing.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Satan Says, The Dead and the Living and “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds.

Maybe five years ago I read Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington with the Global Black Feminist Reading Circle. This was the hardest book ever. However, now that we are in this pandemic and so many people of color are not surviving COVID, I want to muster up the courage to read this book again and see what insights it might offer to our current situation.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

I love physical books. My goal is always to read one book at a time to completion. This almost never happens. I see a new book and like a kid seeing something shiny, I start reading it immediately. Sometimes I might have dipped into a dozen books before I get all “Nurse Ratched” with myself and make a book list, a timeline, put little Post-its on poems I want to read again, and finish book after book. I love reading entire collections and then sitting and pondering the theme and the threads between poems. Nevertheless, in no time at all, I’m back to dipping in and out again—I just can’t help myself.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I want to create a zuihitsu based on lines from my poems that are about my parents, and then grab light bits of songs from the 1970s and other favorite sayings that my parents wore out when we were kids. For example, my father used to say, “Take it easy, greasy, you got a long way to slide.” And my favorite: “I’ll tell you like the farmer told the potato, I’ll plant you now and dig you later.” It would be sort of a love song to imperfection.
 
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I miss reading and writing in public libraries. Remember coffee shops and sitting in Starbucks? I loved to sit and listen and eavesdrop on bits of conversation with the hope that it inspired something I needed to write to complete a poem or a story.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the Billie Holiday Theatre, the fountain at Grand Army Plaza, the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College and the Weeksville Heritage Center. Weeksville is my all-time favorite place to write. The ancestors come and start moving my pen and jump on the page. For some reason I only write with pen and paper at Weeksville.
 
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the future,

And what I sacrificed you sacrificed,

For every way we fought this pandemic me as good but not as brave as you.

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.
 

Brooklyn Go Hard—My First Draft

 

There is a song, beneath the song, only developers sing it—

that’s real ask your father

He worked two jobs and was still a rent dodger

Soon as we caught up—the rent goes up again—Jack

The city stole my aunties’ house—let me know when you wanna talk

about an actual sin

I’m the criminal, the thug; I’m the misappropriation of culture coming

from your twisted pen

Stealing churches, supermarkets and libraries, the mayor thinks

this ain’t no biggie.

Take off the masks, I wanna hear developers singing on blast

“yeah man, we lie, we cheat, we rob.”

A minute ago, nobody wanted nothing to do with Brooklyn,

we the ones was giving her love

She done turned brand new on me, and as I move out,

I’m calling remember me, Brooklyn?

Remember me, Brooklyn?

Why Brooklyn?

My memories are here.

Proud living poems
Brooklyn and community
Keep this heart beating