The following is a review on the recent chapbook release “Brown vs. Bored of Education”, by Christopher K.P. Brown of Philadelphia, PA. It is a collection of 16 poems written over the last two years and mostly, if not all, personal in some way. Chapter one or ‘8:15am (Beginning of the school day)’ opens up with “Saturday, July 13 (or Jean Grae 1 of 4)”; a brief Inception-style piece that tells two stories in one.
to hear your voice that night….
to call you
And care about you
And not be a Black man on that night”
Page one goes on to be a short glimpse of a hopeful love with the potential to serve as a safe place. But upon turning the page Brown reveals that which he seeks love’s shelter from:
“wanted to not discuss the trial
Wanted to not discuss color
Or race in America
The 911 tape…”
The page fills with a broken sense of pride in humanity as the Trayvon Martin verdict becomes the second muse. The two subjects intertwine only briefly on the same pages, each holding their own melancholy separately. Still the combining contrasts tell a tale of love and anger, rage and need, fear and separation. The structure of the piece personifies its movement as it starts the reader on the right side of the page with safety net Jean Grae and ends on the left with the heartbreak of the trial outcome. We’re off to a great first period! The rest of this chapter plays host to several matters and concerns of African American men, of which Brown uses personal accounts and recollections to drive home his poetic points. From the catalysts that lead to incarceration to the often silenced topic of suicide and African Americans men, Christopher does a great job of stretching his pen wings. He fine tunes the art of recreation of situations, emotions and stories. One of my particular favorites, “Death vs Destiny”, reminds me of a Jay-Z line from the song “Murder of Excellence” of which he says,
“...and they say by 21 I supposed to die
So I’m out here celebrating my post demise”
In Brown’s poem, he explores the idea of not expecting to live beyond the age of 21 and as a result, not being prepared for life ala ‘post demise’. The subject alone is mentally engaging but the story he tells of outliving his expected fate presents the type of emotional vulnerability that I would like to see more black male writers embrace. It begs the question of what are we preparing our sons for? Life, or death at a young age? Christopher gives examples of artists, leaders and even close friends/peers who all meet an early demise to help drive home the point of how this mentality develops. “….this feels like overtime. Out here scuffling cause I was caught off guard by my true destiny. Feeling like somebody lied” Overall, this chapter does a great job of opening the door to dialogue about the truths African American men mentally face on any given day.
11:45AM (Lunch Period & Recess)
Brown dives head first into deeper emotional waters in this section. It begins with a poem called “Underground King Freestyle”, which flows through two pages like a hip hop song. It wouldn’t be strange to hear a beat and bob your head while silently reading to yourself. I imagine if this piece was performed, one could close their eyes and listen to the passion bounce from each line spoken. Moving thru the rest of the ‘Lunch & Recess’ section, with exception of a heartfelt poem about his 92 year old grandmother, the remaining poems round out the Jean Grae series. There are four pieces in total, the first having started off the book (Sat. July 13th) This chapter plays home to the final three; two short one page poems and the final two paged piece. This series is amazing. It pulls from the love story that initially started on the right side of the first page in the book. You get a sense of a violent love, but not physically. It’s an emotional violence. A relationship rose war; a notion to continue but a need to stop. His imagery in Poem #2 (We Love It Here) is vivid enough for you to see this couple writing and holding pens together in the rain. In poem #3 (Crashing), you feel the sting of more than a rough patch hit. Finally there is, #4 “Beautiful Chaos”, which is part summary, part reflective. It is exactly what its called: Beautiful Chaos. Poem #4 begs the reader to ask themselves the very questions Chris is asking Jean Grae.
“If your beauty ever tried to pimp slap your ugliness
Would you let it?
Or would you stop it
Say this is how things are supposed to be
Would you ever make an exchange
Trade your chaos in for peace…”
This poem and especially this entire last stanza, spoke so loud to me that it felt as though Brown rose from between the black print and the white page and dared me to make myself Jean Grae for the moment. Not HIS Jean Grae, but the Jean Grae within me. This short love series holds mystery, heartache, truth and that long, ill walk thru acceptance’s palace that we’ve all experienced by age 30. This final installment of Jean Grae (1-4) and subsequently the last poem of 11:15AM, is a poetic dare. I dare you to read it and ask yourself, “is completely beautiful something you’re brave enough to be?”
12:30 (Second Half of School Day)
“Lineage”, is the introductory poem into the final chapter of Brown vs. The Bored of Education. The poem itself is an absolute dedication to those who have mile marked both the literary and performance roads for rest of us spoken word artists/poets/writers. Names such as Chuck D. and Sean Carter, Saul Williams and Gwendolyn Brooks as well as Goodie Mob, Phyliss Wheatley and Countee Cullen are immortalized in a semi-circular structured poem that reads like old Harlem.
“this is that
Between Chuck D.
And Nikki G.
And Sean Carter
Poetry be the mother
Hip hop be the father
Spoken word, the child
And we be the authors.”
The remainder of the chapter seems motivated by the internal war writers and artists sometimes find themselves in battle with, as evidenced in the poem “Poet vs SELF. It’s a war that doesn’t start or end solely on the stage; rather it begins at conception and resonates throughout our entire lives. There are several final perspectives explored, including the notion of womanhood and respect as found in heartbreaking Sweetest Taboo (pt 2.).
“her self worth
And her sexuality never speak to each other”
In the poem “Strange Game”, Brown highlights the recurring problem of poets being almost expected to work for free. Having done my own share of performing, this piece hit home. In it he states:
“…we get on stage night in, night out
Saving the world for free
Often “paying” at the door
Just so we can get up here to entertain
I mean, imagine if a stripper brought her own ones to the stage
And when that music comes on
She was the one busy making it rain…”
I think any poet who reads this will appreciate it being highlighted as a problem. The final poem of the book is “Higher Power”. It is his final naked walk across the pages of truth. As with EVERY poem before, it exposes Chris. He puts his weaknesses on in the same block of words as his strengths, while praising God and admitting that he needs to do better.
“tryna eat healthier
Drink more water
Live longer so my grandchildren have a real life example
Of what it means to live in tune with God
Spiritually conscious in a world where they say
A higher power don’t matter no more”
Brown vs. The Bored of Education is a solid literary effort from Christopher Brown. I directly connected to about 90% of it. We share a lot of the same thoughts and questions regarding art and life, so relating with his work seemed easy. The chosen poems do a great job at character sketching the mind of Brown. In his final entry, an essay entitled “Brown vs Bored of Education”, he candidly speaks about his history with writing, poetry and music, all of which correlate to the poems shared in the book. He also speaks on what he believes to be his responsibilities to the poetry community as well as the responsibilities of his peers. I really enjoyed this material and have no doubts that I will read it again, as I already have read several poems quite a few times. I think the courts rule in favor of Brown.
***To find out more about Christopher K.P. Brown and to purchase your copy of his book “Brown vs. Bored of Education” visit: