Meet Flint’s Poet Laureate Semaj Brown

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“I believe we are the creative imagination of our futures. I understand thought to be the poetic spark from which all things manifest. Thoughts are architectural, building words into language, constructing societies that define Earth’s social ecosystems.” Semaj Brown

Poet. Educator. Playwright. Author. Performer. Thought Leader who thinks outside the lines. These are just a few of the many hats worn by Semaj Brown, Flint’s first Poet Laureate. She is also a recipient of the 2021 Academy of American Poets Poet Laureate Fellowship Award, which was given to 23 poet laureates across the country. The recipients were awarded $50,000 to help them grow public poetry programs in their communities. “It is really an honor,” Brown says of the award. “I was ecstatic and shocked!” The monetary gift will be used to continue her poet laureate civic focus, the Poetry Pod Project (P3).

Brown was named Flint’s first poet laureate in September 2019 by then-mayor, Karen Weaver. The idea was suggested to Brown by the Pierians (a national arts organization with a chapter in Flint) a couple of years prior, then again in 2019. “I grew up around poet laureates and I knew what it would require,” she admits. “I receive no money from the City of Flint – I do it for the citizens of Flint.” As a poet laureate, she is tasked with making poetry come alive in the community. “For me, my charge is to use poetry to increase literacy and I can accomplish that through interdisciplinary programming.” P3 is her interdisciplinary, intergenerational civic literacy initiative, which is a fun, educational process that incorporates art and science through games.

Originally from Detroit, Brown moved to Flint in 2003 when she married her husband, area physician James Brown, MD. She graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in biology and taught science in the Detroit Public Schools. She and her husband co-founded The Planted Kingdom™ and Health Collectors™ LLC. “My husband asked me to help get the word out about healthy living and eating,” she shares. She turned vegetables into poetry and conducted radio shows and lots of workshops. “I was ‘The Veggie Lady’,” she recalls. Their goal was to foster wellness and health throughout the community using science and art applications. “Everything I do is integrated with art and science. I bring art to science and science to art.”

Brown’s husband is also a musician and he made an Arborlune™ (musical instrument) from fallen tree branches in their yard which he strung like a harp. “We perform concerts together,” Brown shares. “James composes music for my theatrical poetry productions and accompanies me during poetry readings, using the Arborlune or other instruments.”

Currently, Brown is writing a book about looking at water from a spiritual and social level, which she hopes to finish by the end of the summer. The book examines the varied things water means to us, she says. “Many do not see the fundamental oneness between ourselves and water. Human bodies are 60-70 percent water. That would seem to make us walking, talking rivers contained in a suitcase of skin and bones!”

Brown enjoys her role as Flint’s Poet Laureate and she and James will continue to serve the community they love. “We bleed for Flint. We put all of our time and resources into Flint,” Brown states. “We stay because we want to be here. Our hearts are for Flint.” ?

As a part of a national initiative, “Vote the Earth,” Flint’s Poet Laureate Samaj Brown was asked to write a poem and create a video that illuminated the intersection of social and environmental justice. This project was organized by Kent State University in partnership with Columbia University and the Center for Earth Ethics, New York, NY.

Photos provided by Semaj Brown


Where am I from?

I am from the blood of fire river
where the strike of friction against rock of flint
smokes tongues of resistance
lead burning brains and bodies of the resilient beautiful
I am Flint, mid-west bio region
where a nuclear orange canary alerts the world

Meet me, meet me
where the water-shed into bay of being
fed by underground railroad tributaries
escaping the River Killers

Where am I from?
I am from the conflagration
The Big Fire!
Incinerating the revolving rotisserie globe

They have savaged our bodies and our land
I burn for you our Breonna, oh our Breonna
radiating volcanic social convulsions
of African ash

I am from a regurgitating country
trying to grow a conscience in a petri dish
Wheezing in the chemical crucible of casual killings
as the tide of plastic rushes our veins

Where am I from?
Do you not hear the eulogy of rainforest choirs
Do you not hear the silence of extinction?

I am from this Earth is my body
I am from my lungs are a species
I am from that sacrament dissimilar
to any ever tasted the milk of
newer forever more than eternity the breath of

We the Humble Crawlers of Light
magma our authority, lava our power
and shout this Earth forward
march this Earth Forward

We the Humble Crawlers of Light
claim victory while ingesting quest for justice
as our daily bread.

We rave the reckoning
radiate spiritual convulsions of inherited legacy
scorching, scalding, peeling our Earth forward.

I am from the mountain zenith
where crows fly and make revolution
dismantling, dissolving — diabolical covenants.

Where I am from
we rally the Earth forward
stampede like Serengeti migration
trample land mines, shouting monuments down

Awakening her, quaking with her,
making, taking, staking freedom!

With infrared eyes, we do this
With infrared eyes, an adaptation of our tombs
We wash in ash, emerge singed,
fists like floating planets,
tied to a standing arm of vertical hope —
not knowing, not knowing if dawn will break us,
but declaring triumph with
mouths full of cinder and soot:

Where I am from
“We Lift every voice and sing”

We shall and do overcome
We proclaim:
“We gonna be alright,
we gonna be alright”
because we are better than alright

I am from the inception, the inception
First thought
Humanities ancestral beginning
I am from that truth, that truth,

Truth

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