Howard Brown, one of our fabulous board members, is a published poet and storyteller! Recently, Howard’s poems “Obliquity,” “Rescued,” and “Bad Kitty” were included in the 81st edition of Burningword Journal in January! Our volunteer media coordinator David Haynes had the chance to sit down with Howard and discuss these poems and learn a little bit about Howard’s writing process!
Howard began writing poetry in college, but never pursued publishing until his retirement in 2009. Brown recalls, “Practicing law was so intense, so writing was a way to relax.” Now, Howard has the time to reach out to publications and devote more time and energy to his craft.
With Mary Oliver and David Whyte as key sources of inspiration, Howard loves to craft poems that are straightforward, universal, and poignant. He does not want flowery language and metaphors to cloud any meaning that can be conveyed through his writing. And this desire clarity in poetry inspired this poem:
Give me poems—
poems which speak to the heart
and not the head;
whose words roll from the tongue
like water over polished stone;
which say straight out
what they have to say;
whose truth does not lie buried
beneath endless layers
of meaningless metaphor;
poems unlike those
fawned over by the literary elite,
but leave me asking:
What fuckery is this?
While he usually uses a computer to draft poems, Howard makes sure that there is a physicality to his process. Instead of editing on a computer, he prints out a draft and leaves it on his kitchen counter. Then, he looks at it twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. He makes more edits in the evening, then prints out a fresh copy to place on the counter the next day. Usually, he repeats this cycle for two weeks!
Though Howard understands the benefits that technology provides, he also loves moments spent away from technology. Every year, he takes an annual fishing trip to a location without cell service, which he says is absolutely refreshing. He also escapes technology in other ways, as evidenced in his poem “Rescued:”
Standing in the bathroom,
attempting to text
and pee at the same time,
I dropped my cell phone in the toilet.
In a flash, I saw the phone’s
micro-circuits signing off, one by one,
as I reached down and took hold of
the little urine-soaked rectangle.
after three days of silence,
no texts, no emails
no help from the ubiquitous Siri,
the phone still buried
in a bowl of Uncle Ben’s long-grain rice,
I wonder who, in truth, has been rescued—
the cell phone or me?
Howard adds recognizable items and details into his poetry, such as “Uncle Ben’s long-grain rice” or the “ubiquitous Siri.” He says, “When you use things people recognize, everyone will make a connection. It’s sort of a gimmick. Same thing with profanity - it catches people’s attention.” This emphasis on connectivity helps his poems to spark our imaginations, making the everyday seem magical.
And what is more magical than a cat? In “Bad Kitty,” Howard observes a cat and notices its fussy habits and dining preferences. Howard’s emphasis on the everyday provides us with this funny and charming poem:
He was a bad kitty,
and did not care.
Dining according to the dictates
of his own finicky palate,
he turned up his nose
at all the rest.
Without warning, he would
bite the very hand which fed him,
if that hand strayed where
he deemed it should not be.
He shat and pissed and wiped his butt
wherever he chose—oriental rug,
litter box or easy chair,
they were all the same to him.
Clueless that he owed us anything,
he slept through the day curled in front
of the big glass door, twitching in the sunlight
as he dreamed his ephemeral, feline dreams.
For he was a bad kitty,
and did not care.
Howard has published a collection of poetry called The Gossamer Nature Of Random Things and recently his short story "Better Things To Do" was published in the winter issue of Full Of Crow journal. We look forward to reading more of Howard’s work in the future, and we thank him for his dedicated service to So Lit!