Interview With Milly Brown

posted by Joseph Lukpata on Jul 24 2020, 8:09 pm

Why did you start writing poetry?

I started writing when I was about 16. I just had to express myself…to myself. I felt all my ideas and feelings were oppressed by my family. I kept my writing secret.


You are published in reputable magazines. How did you feel the first time you had a poem published?

The first time I was published for real was in 1969 when I was 21. It was during the People’s Park rebelllion in Berkeley, California, where I was student. My professor, Josephine Miles, submitted my poem to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and he chose it. That might have been the happiest thing that ever happened to me in my long life! I saw the booklet, “The Green Flag”, in the bookstores for many months after, which was such a thrill!

Whose poetry has inspired your style?

Ferlighetti was and is my idol! My poetry isn’t much like his, but I like to think it has some of the same spirit. (He’s 101 years old, by the way!)

How do your poems develop? Could you please guide us through the stages of writing a poem?

My poems start with a feeling of passion. (I don’t write much now because I’m low on passion.) Then there’s a thought – some ironic thing or some words that just come together and create something. I scribble it out as fast as I can and then let it sit a while, coming back to it to edit or add. Usually, though, I write past the thought and have to trim.


Is there an image that seems to reoccur throughout your poems?

I don’t think images have much to do with most of my work. I’m not very visual. It’s all ideas and heart.

Do you prefer to keep it simple or you like it when your readers dig out the meaning? What is your take on poetry and obscurity?

I dislike poetry that requires the reader to work. My poems are meant to be fairly transparent. They should be accessible to non-academic people, at least on the surface.

There is this talk about a good or a bad poem. What do you think makes a poem good or bad? Are there some criteria for judging poetry?

As Josephine Miles said about poetry, “If it works, it is.” I know bad poetry when I see it. To be honest, most of the poetry I see is pretty bad. Cliches, lack of cohesion, repetition, poor choice of words…I guess I’m fussy. (I did get a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature at U. C. Berkeley.)

What are some of your favourite literary magazines?

The only literary magazine I read is The New Yorker.


Milly Brown studied under Josephine Miles at U. C. Berkeley. Many of her poems have been printed in various publications over the years, most notably: Bangalore Review (2019); California Quarterly (2019); Desert Wood (UNR, 1991); Eclectic (1970); Hiram Poetry Review (1971); The Green Flag (City Lights Books, 1969). She took a long break from submitting, but she is revived.