First Person

Writing poetry: a reporter’s notebook

October 22, 2015

The joke around my house is that I wrote a book of poetry because my wife left me home alone so she could teach abroad for three months.  Why else would a journalist write poetry? There’s a bit of truth there. When I wasn’t on the road myself, working as a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, I was home at my kitchen table, spreading out scraps of paper, pages from notebooks, typed sheets–my “collected works” of poetry. Some lines had been jotted down quickly–in the field, as we were about to go live in the studio, waking from a dream, waiting for the light to change. Others were more worked over, whittled this way and that.

After awhile, I saw a thread, a theme: In much of the writing I was exploring the profession we call  journalism, the news. “What do we see / and what do we say?” Several decades in, I still feel the wonder of it, the concern for it.  What we capture and what we too often miss. I still travel to foreign places, struggle to apprehend and convey, grasping only that “within the same frame / the eye deceives, meanings hide.” I still sit in a television studio and feel the strangeness of it, the artifice in being “live.” I laugh at myself, the comic situations, the compulsion to ask questions and seek understanding, “as though one could climb / inside another’s brain.”

 I went back to transcripts of interviews. I remembered scenes of a story that didn’t make the final cut. I took stories I’d presented for the NewsHour and I wrote them again, in a different voice, in a different language, that of poetry. Not as “news poems,” but as poems about the news and the experience of the person doing the news–“I who sing you / this lyric of loss.”  The news–my life in it–became The News.

Here’s a selection from the collection, recently published by Copper Canyon Press:




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Jeffrey Brown is a senior correspondent for the PBS NewsHour and author of the new poetry collection, The News.