Austin poet Derrick Brown writes words that tangle with the spirit. Sometimes bizarre and sometimes sickeningly sweet, his poems are winsome reads on the page, but in the live context they can take on more resonance.
The Write Bloody founder has traipsed through hundreds of countries and dozens of vocations to create a medium that lives somewhere in the nebula between poetry and storytelling, making him the type of artist who can share the stage with anyone from Cold War Kids to Eugene Mirman. On Saturday, he'll be at the Cedar warming up the crowd for Afghan Wigs' frontman Greg Dulli.
For the uninitiated, a poet opening for a musician can be a little startling. The tour posters list Brown as a "literary stylist" for this reason, but with his ability to bridge song and verse, it's perhaps the perfect way to set the tone for the intimate performance that will follow. As proof of that, here are Brown's five most moving poems ever set to film.
"The Kurosawa Champagne" from Born in the Year of the Butterfly Knife (2004)
Has there ever been a more quixotic platitude than "We were so broke, I poured tap water into your mouth, burped against your lips so you could have champagne"? Less a love poem and more a collection of romantic one-liners, "The Kurosawa Champagne" is perhaps Brown's best-known poem. Coming from his monumental Write Bloody debut, Born in the Year of the Butterfly Knife, the poem tells the story of two bleary lovers realizing, through the fog of their drunkenness, the depth of their love. As one watches the other sleep, anecdotal odes to that building love come, each one growing in hyperbole and scope as the sparse hi-hat-and-piano beat pulses toward the lullaby finish.
"Meatloaf" from Scandalabra (2009)
Like "The Kurosawa Champagne," "Meatloaf" begins and ends with an incantation, this one being handed down to him from his mother. In the poem, Brown remembers his mother losing her wedding ring in the drain when he was a child. He tries to cheer her up by cracking jokes, and it's a prodigal moment for Brown. Most of Brown's poems end on pleasant notes, but the finale of this Scandalabra standout is unsettling, the grief incompletely solved, though the gentle song she sings indicates that resolution will come with a few more repetitions.
"The Last Weatherman" from Strange Light (2012)
One of Brown's foregone vocations was as a weatherman for NewsWatch 4 in Flagstaff, Arizona. It's one of the most oft-cited failures that led Brown to his calling as a poet. "The Last Weatherman" tells the fictionalized, third-person story of how Brown was busted out of the malaise of his local broadcasting stint and realized that his nonsensical attitude wasn't a character flaw. As the poem reaches its trembling crescendo — the half disastrous, half miraculous final taping — the listener is given an allegory to look to. It's a call to everyone to let in the bad weather of words. Enjoy the burn, freak caboose.
"All Distortion All the Time" from I Love You Is Back (2006)
Brown's eulogy to his own self-pity, "All Distortion All the Time," is a direct response to the self-effacing tendencies of the average poet. One of his shorter performance pieces, the work has nonetheless become a cult favorite among Write Bloody fans for its enduring message of positivity. Hearing Brown go through his own transformation from doubt-racked to confident and defiant is a galvanizing experience. It's a first-ballot Greatest Hit for the spirited former paratrooper.
"A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me" from Born in the Year of the Butterfly Knife (2004)
A tribute to love in its most elemental form, "A Finger, Two Dots, Then Me" spans time, space, and dimension in its profession of devotion. Turned into a short film by Duality Productions eight years after its initial publication, the poem took on a new life in the visual form. The grandness of the statement is amplified when set to the images and soundtrack Brown and Duality chose, a fact that's won the piece a slew of festival awards and nominations. In the tremendous finale of his search for holiness, Brown loses himself completely in his words, and likewise the audience is drawn right out of their seats and into the moment.