We had the good fortune of connecting with Brandon Dean Lamson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brandon Dean, how do you think about risk?
I embrace risk, seeing it as presenting opportunities to grow beyond my self-imposed boundaries. As an artist, I’m continually seeking to take risks, vowing not to repeat what I have already done but to experiment and to be open to the fortuitous interventions of chance. I also attempt to risk being more open with other people, which entails listening and vulnerability. We are at a moment amidst the pandemic and the call for social change when many of us feel inspired to act upon our understanding of how deeply we are interconnected. The way that I tend to my health is not merely a personal issue, but directly impacts everyone in my community. When I passively watch people of color being systematically oppressed and brutalized, I participate in that oppression. Instead, I can risk stepping forward and contributing to social change. My meditation classes invite participants to risk really getting in touch with themselves by sitting still and quietly tuning into their experience. This is courageous, as we are lured by so many opportunities to numb ourselves and to escape from our thoughts and feelings. Moment by moment, with each breath, we can choose to face reality with more fearlessness. The willingness to take a risk makes this possible.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
The writer’s life is never an easy one, and at the same time I feel very fortunate to struggle to do something every day that I love. Since I’m a poet, I’m not susceptible to the commercial incentives and hunger for notoriety that perhaps other writers are. This gives me a certain kind of freedom to do what I want, to take creative risks and listen to my instincts. Every poem that I write helps to teach me how to write the next one. My book Starship Tahiti was published by the University of Massachusetts Press, and currently I’m sending around a memoir based on my experience teaching inmates on Rikers Island. I was recently the Summer Poet in Residence at the University of Mississippi, and my poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, and Third Coast. I also write articles on Buddhist practice and social justice that have been published in Tricycle Magazine and in Speculative Non-Buddhism.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would take my friend to the wonderful art galleries and museums in our city, beginning with the Menil and the Cy Twombly Gallery, moving to the CAMH, and then to the MFAH. The Francis Bacon exhibit currently showing at the MFAH is one of my favorites from the past few years. I would also introduce my friends to what I think of as the hidden nature spots in Houston, even though they are not actually hidden. These include the Houston Arboretum, the recently opened Memorial Park Eastern Glades, and the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern. If we had time, it would be fascinating to also take my friend on a driving tour of the shipping channel, so that he could see the grotesque underbelly of the petrochemical and oil business, a kind of Dantesque conglomeration of refineries and plants that contributes to our unsustainable way of life. Actually, every Houstonian should go there if they haven’t seen it. I find a kind of strange beauty in this apocalyptic landscape.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to shout out to my beautiful wife Elizabeth Haberer, who founded the Houston Meditation Society after the Orlando shootings to promote a peaceful and mindful response to social injustice. She also brought the Never Again Action movement to Houston to protest the child detention centers in our city, and her activism continues to inspire me. I’d also like to shout out to my Zen teacher Konjin Gaelyn Godwin, who has guided and supported me throughout my training in Zen practice. The Houston Zen Center is my spiritual home, and is a place that nourishes and sustains me. Finally, I want to shout out to all of the poets who have mentored me in Houston, my writing group the Happy Criminals, and the vibrant community of writers and readers in our city.
Image credit for last photo: Veronica Ramos