Icon is an ekphrasis of the place where personal and global histories coalesce. F. Douglas Brown examines the prominent images of those who have shaped his past. Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass (the poet’s namesake) take center stage. Prominent icons are transformed into art. They become walls, housing the projections of a reflective poet. Brown stands at the base of these beautiful panels (created by Jacob Lawrence back in the 1930s) and sees himself contained within them.
Here, the poet is vulnerable and sorrowful, yet powerful and righteous nonetheless. “A lone tulip speaks the will of God.” These are poems made by the tongue. Made to be spoken. Projected into the open air. Poems built out of robust language. So sound in structure. Baroque and mature. An ode to representations. The repudiation of white violence. Icon is the reflections that allow us to move forward, that recognition of past atrocities, of old yet present traumas. This collection is a testament to Brown’s great talent as not only as poet, but as historian and orator.
Towards the end of the book there is a sequence of “golden shovel” poems which pay respect to those that have been killed because of the color of their skin. This sequence is heartbreaking and beautiful. Icon contains a rare respect and appreciation for what black women have accomplished, and what they have been forced to suffer through. Icon is a critical body of work, so ambitious in its design. The reutilization of images and language. I don’t really know what else I can say. This isn’t my pain, but it is a pain that I need to be aware of. Not experiences that I can understand, but that are nonetheless real. Icon is poetry, history, autobiography, reflection, examination. Read Icon. And read every poet who Brown has dedicated his work to. Marcus Wicker. Tracy K Smith. John Murillo. Morgan Parker.