Arts & Culture
6:00 am
Fri April 25, 2014

I Think I Knew When I Stole The Book - The Poetry Of Deborah Brown

As part of National Poetry month, NHPR's Sean Hurley has been introducing us to a New Hampshire poet every Friday. Today, in our final part of the series, we hear from Deborah Brown who lives in Warner. Brown published her latest volume of poetry, Walking the Dog's Shadow, in 2011.  

Warner, NH poet Deborah Brown discusses poetry and reads her poem "The Human Half".

Deborah Brown recalls the moment she knew she'd become a poet.

I remember really falling in love with poetry as a kid.  Certainly by middle school years.  But I think I knew it when I stole the book.

She was 11 years old, attending Nashua Middle School. 

It was the textbook we used at school. It was on modern British and American poetry and I took it home and I never brought it back.

Half a century later, Brown, who teaches at UNH Manchester, still keeps the book on her shelves. 

I began to write about that time and I wrote some terrible stuff.  Really embarrassing stuff.  Which I imagine most people do.

Poems about herself.  Her feelings.  Beautiful weather and sadness, pretty flowers and death.

I think earlier on I was trying harder to express myself and express my own emotions, which were, you know, inchoate.  I think now I'm not trying directly to express myself, I'm trying to make something or do something.

The emotional experience can still be found in her poetry. But the perspective has shifted.  While many of Brown's poems are written in the first person, she's learned the distance between her inner life and the outer world.  And while simple "feelings" can still trigger a new poem for Brown, usually it's something else.

I think it's usually a bit of language.  Or an image.  A picture, a mental picture of something.  It might be something that I've seen in the newspaper or on television.  Sometimes there's a sense of outrage about something I've read or about something that's going on in the world.  But I think most often for me it's a bit of language.

Brown's father often accused her of being "half baked" when she did something odd or off-center as a child.  It's that bit of language that gets disentangled here, as Deborah Brown reads her poem, "The Human Half":

Half-baked, my father used to say, meaning, 
that I was half in a state of nature, not yet
abashed into civilized form by parents 
and other elders, the yeast still rising.
I’m consumed by who is cooked and who is not. 
I see traces of wildness in our half-built house
and in the fond eye of a  friend’s eye, the raw gleam 

of a machete. It begins with the sperm’s wild dash 
to the egg. There’s a half that’s whole
in most of us, like members of a family
one rich one poor, or the halves of this house-- 
the now and the hereafter, the part that loves, 
the part that does not. Raw house, always half-built.
Raw human. Still half-baked. One hand 
in the oven, the other half out the kitchen 
door into the storm. If I could flee. Or bake. 
But think of not having a home. There are 
the homeless and those who do not have a homeland, 
and the rest of us—homed, but only half-homed,
the wind whistling in from the shed and past us.