J. Scott Brownlee

J. Scott Brownlee (Poetry) | Philadelphia, PA

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J. Scott Brownlee is a poet-of-place from Llano, Texas. His poems appear in The Kenyon Review, Narrative Magazine, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. He is the author of the chapbooks Highway or Belief, Ascension, and On the Occasion of the Last Old Camp Meeting in Llano County. Honors for these collections include the 2013 Button Poetry Prize, 2014 Robert Phillips Poetry Prize, and 2015 Tree Light Books Prize. His first full-length collection, Requiem for Used Ignition Cap, was a finalist for the 2015 National Poetry Series and Writers’ League of Texas Book Award and received the 2015 Orison Poetry Prize, as well as the 2016 Bob Bush Memorial Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. Brownlee is a founding member of The Localists, a literary collective that emphasizes place-based writing of personal witness, cultural memory, and the aesthetically marginalized working class. He lives in Philadelphia, teaches for Brooklyn Poets as a core faculty member, and is a former Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at NYU, where he earned his MFA.


Requiem for Used Ignition Cap (Orison Books, 2015). Orison Poetry Prize. Poetry.


Blurbs, Press & Reviews

This Texas writer moved to New York and brought some Texas dirt with him. This is a big-hearted, uncomplaining book—sometimes biblical in its utterances; it brings to mind the definition of poetry, “breaking the frozen sea,” and Brownlee dives in, too, and writes of the undercurrent. There’s an expedition in each poem, sometimes rousing, never giving in, creating powerful heart bonds. Can a poet be revelatory without being overwhelmed by suffering? Brownlee can—and he’s good at it.
—Grace Cavalieri in The Washington Independent Review of Books

J. Scott Brownlee’s Requiem for Used Ignition Cap pulses with imagery that grounds and levitates mind and body, crisscrossing some risky borderlands, but always in a zone of quotidian integrity. This collection, honed and shaped, is woven from ordinary lives and dreams, and each trope honors the earth we walk upon. There’s a feeling in this collection—voices and rituals that spark the landscape. Brownlee juxtaposes mind and spirit, and there’s nowhere these poems don’t dare to go.
—Yusef Komunyakaa

The violence of men, the delicacy of their broken bodies, the religiosity of the town that raised them: all of these influence Requiem for Used Ignition Cap, which documents an America we rarely see. In J. Scott Brownlee’s Llano, high school football heroes become PTS-affected war vets. The rural dead sing from the hollow flutes their bones leave in the dust. These are poems whose language begins with the body and the land. For Brownlee, the two are inseparable.
—Dorianne Laux

Devotion, whether in poetry or prayer, requires one to pay attention. From the very first poem of this collection to the last, J. Scott Brownlee does exactly that. Whether it is the landscapes of Texas, soldiers home from Iraq, or the awkward ways in which we relate to each other, these poems pay close attention to details and transform them into something organic, whole, and incredibly moving.
—C. Dale Young

In his debut collection, J. Scott Brownlee writes a stunning ode to his rural Texas hometown and its fathers, brothers, and ghosts. Llano is a place where meth addicts score, wildflowers burn, hunters drink in their blinds, slain deer talk, soldiers return from duty with loaded guns, and the Wal-Mart sign glows brighter than Friday night’s lights. In forms that barely contain their explosive contents, Brownlee’s poems relate and interrogate what’s expected of young White men growing up in the rural South. In doing so, they resist the erasure and nostalgia of some Southern literature and instead lay bare the benefits and violent trappings of small-town Christianity and masculinity. These poems are at once song, accusation, self-implication, and prayer—full of the music of a place from which Brownlee is forever removed but from which he will always hail.
—Susan B.A. Somers-Willett

Every poem in Requiem for Used Ignition Cap is deeply rooted in Hill Country soil, with evocations of caliche, live oaks and cedars, Indian blankets and bull nettles, mockingbirds and rattlesnakes, whitetail deer and yellow perch, and the vast, unknowable blue of the Central Texas sky. Here, too, are the people who live among those natural wonders, and the trucks they drive and the guns they shoot and the Bibles they thump and the meth they get high on. And nothing of the place that is conjured—not the antlered buck or the wounded Iraq war vet, not the salt lick or the horseflies or the catfish heads on a clothesline—has an air of distance about it, of being drawn from memories of long ago. The descriptions vibrate with the immediacy of things freshly seen and felt, held just under the skin and still rushing hot through the blood. . . . The Hill Country of Brownlee’s poems is a land of stark beauty and startling violence, intertwined like climbing vines and every bit as natural, a place where “the river splits light like a straight razor’s edge,” where a yearling fawn hit by a truck and dead on the road is still “bright in the eye-like headlights of traffic,” where even the beloved bluebonnets warn us not to plant them in the grass “because we kill every good thing we touch.” Brownlee’s Llano is a place complex and haunting in ways you may not expect. And once you’ve been there, there’s a good chance that, like its author, you’ll never be far from it.
—Robert Faires in The Austin Chronicle

In Requiem for Used Ignition Cap, Brownlee investigates the breach between the male role he was raised to assume and the man—tender, searching, empathetic—he’s become. These poems often speak through or accompany the men of Llano as they engage in traditional rituals of manhood. They’re former soldiers . . . hunters who eat what they kill . . . laborers whose work shapes their bodies. A collective “we” recurs throughout the book, but Brownlee only sometimes uses it to speak from the perspective of men; other times he speaks in the voices of wildflowers that bloom in the town’s ditches, suggesting he may identify as much with the local flora as with the townspeople. Perhaps what I admire most about this collection is that although his isolation and bewilderment are palpable, Brownlee declines to focus solely on his own pain . . . endeavoring to understand the impact of Llano’s landscape and culture not just on his own life but on the lives of those who have stayed there. This book is a love song—to the people of Llano, yes, but most simply and beautifully to its fields and trees, its birds and flowers, its white-tailed deer. Brownlee deliberately seeks to re-inhabit his home, and despite discomfort and alienation, finds empathy for a community that may ultimately not include him.
—Melissa Crowe in Beloit Poetry Journal

I was very impressed by this book. Brownlee builds a doxology from shotgun shells, wildflowers, and catfish. The dominant mode of the collection is elegiac and the poet combines the devotional impulse with a lovingly drawn portrait of his hometown of Llano, Texas. This collection also provides a nuanced portrait of lower middle class white people, the same population Claudia Rankine discussed in her keynote address at AWP 2016. I could talk about this amazing collection for hours.
—Dante Di Stefano on The Best American Poetry Blog

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