The Last Poem I Loved: “Rick” by Jericho Brown


Poets fall in love with poems all the time, so much so that the question “what poem did you love last” isn’t really a question, but an invitation to wax poetic about the current darling in your eye. Because the truth is that a poet learns to fall in love with the words of another. I’ll cheat though, and say this poem is less the last poem I loved and more the last poem that I wanted to love again and again.

I stalked this poem, going to Agni’s online site again and again to check it out. Jericho Brown’s “Rick” is a poem of hunger, and it’s startling because for me it changed the shape of want, made it less physical and more intimate. It also made me think about a world of considerations that moved beyond the poem.

How do I, a straight black man, love a poem that is so unflinchingly homoerotic? And as I read the poem repeatedly, without shame, I realized that the poem spoke to me because it painted this picture of what we all want: a hunger that startles us, a hunger that frightens us. “This is how I learned envy” Brown begins, and it makes me think, as the poem progresses, that all love breaks down to wanting to be touched so fiercely it’s painful. Brilliant poems make you project, make you change names in the poems and find ways to insert yourself.

After the fifth or sixth time I read this poem I realized I’d done all kinds of damage to the narrative. At times Rick had been a woman named, well I won’t say her name, and at times Rick had been me, and at times Rick was Rick and I was just reading and watching and wishing that someone wanted me that bad. This is the chaos a good poem causes, this is the chaos a poem you love causes, it makes you remember again, if it is a love poem, all the reasons why you are in love, at that very moment, with a person who may have no idea what it means to have such envy.

A Cave Canem Fellow, R. Dwayne Betts is an accomplished poet. He has won a Holden Fellowship, a scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and was a finalist for the Ruth Lily Fellowship. His first collection, Shahid Reads His Own Palm, won the Beatrice Hawley Award and was published by Alice James Books in May 2010. More from this author →