East Village Magazine describes Flint, Michigan’s First Poet Laureate, Semaj Brown as “…a poet, a priestess, a force of nature, of anger and love…” Semaj is an ever evolving planet with sonic gravitational pull. She thinks outside the line; in fact Semaj may not see the line, at least not in the same way we do. Her dear friend Arlene, a science fiction enthusiast and storyteller maintains, “There are dimensions to travel, and never ending doors to open within Semaj.” Thirty years ago, while having tea, and Astra-projecting to an off the beat cafe in Istanbul, Arlene told Semaj that her life desire was to meet someone from another planet. Explains Arlene, when she met Semaj her dream was fulfilled. “Semaj is a magnificent odyssey, hosting super natural mental capabilities!”
A Broadside Lotus Press Poet who is recognized by the Academy of American Poets, NY, NY, and who is celebrated by the Detroit community where she spent her formative life, Semaj plays down the barrage of accolades, laughing: “But they are the kindest writers of fiction. If I am great, it is because God is great, and my ancestors are great.”
James Brown MD is Semaj’s life- partner husband and creative collaborator; together they cofounded Health Collectors LLC to foster wellness, and health throughout the community using science / art applications. In the foreword of Semaj’s 2019 book, Bleeding Fire! Tap the Eternal Spring of Regenerative Light (Broadside Lotus Press, Health Collectors LLC), Dr. Brown states, “Semaj’s poetry appeals on a multitude of magnetic levels— conscious, subconscious, and preconscious. One must mine densely layered lines to arrive at new ways of seeing and understanding experiences.”
Semaj is a science driven fierce educator who sees art in science, math in sentence syntax, and poetry in everything. She is a builder of curriculums across genres, pulling from left and right brain modalities, creating alternative realities in her classroom installations, and during larger than Mt. Everest performances. Casual conversations with Semaj can be mind- bending according to Erica Britt, PhD sociolinguist, University of Michigan-Flint who has serially curated Semaj’s work.
Semaj comments: “I intend for my work to stand as a foil against systemic patrilineal structural racism. Magical realism, myth making extended from orbits of ether collude to shift perceptions. What was concretely thought of as truth is questioned. This presents the necessary space to create and revive traditions of power and harmony.” Semaj as an essayist crafts a meld of academic lyricism.
The title of the column she writes for the Flint Courier News shares a glimpse into her oddly Victorian Black revolutionary hybrid style of being— Poetry Confessions: Tea Time with the Poet Laureate. Semaj will politely nod, almost coy, before she dons performance mask, head piece with blinking lights, and delivers a mind jarring Post- Earth apocalyptic performance. This happened at The Flint institute of Arts (FIA), 2020. That gala afternoon Semaj was joined by Billie Scott Lindo and James Brown, MD in a work commissioned by the Flint Institute of Arts: Something Called War inspired by the multimedia work, Epoch by the artist, Whitfield Lovell.
When an idea has Semaj, watch for the rain of meteorites as stars burst a universe from her Thought Galaxy of programming: The Poetry Pod Project (P3), Poet Laureate civic initiative that teaches literacy via poetry while utilizing arts and sciences. The Planted Kingdom™ Project is a
destination place where vegetables come alive as the roots, seeds, and leaves are activists on the Green Front. Onion Revolt: A Healthy Comedy, a compelling one woman show; Project Water US was conceived, by Semaj and implemented via collaboration with The Pierians Flint chapter. Creating a Vegetable Consciousness, 8 weeks of art science workshops launched at The Boys and Girls Club at Greater Flint, and the Pop-Up Science Lab at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History for the Detroit Freedoms Schools Movement are all the result of Semaj’s pedagogy. Learn more about Semaj’s Academic Bridge and Innovative programming.
Free thinking is not to be confused with free wielding, as Semaj is a disciplined artist, an avid gluten free vegetarian, and a no thank you to offers of alcohol. I think we can thank her mother The legendary Bessie L James for this foundation as Semaj recalls in her Bleeding Fire… book, mother’s insistence upon early morning rising to practice violin before taking three buses downtown Detroit to the esteemed
college preparatory, Cass Technical High School.
As a result of living in the realm of lyric and melody, dissonant tones, and indigenous harmonies, Semaj can sense an invisible rhythm, and apply that beat to math or music or justice systems. She has collaborated with the finest of Detroit musicians: The late Faruq Z. Bey, Clifford Sykes, and Ras Kente to name a few. When asked about her artistic process, she talks about residing in the “in between” spaces. “I live in between genres and groups of people, in between words and worlds. This way I feel the draft of the overlap.” I was not always comfortable in interstitial space, but this is my frequency; it is home now.
Semaj is talking about how she negotiates the world. She is also referencing her integrated, immersive process of creating literature, lessons, and theater. Ayi Robeson, Director of Al Nur African Dance Troupe remembers Semaj as science consultant for Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology in Detroit: “Mama Semaj entered the room and theatrically declared, ‘I am Science! It seemed to echo’ you could hear a pin drop. She had the students from that point, and the students learned through her methods that they were science too.” Timbuktu went on to receive The State of Michigan Golden Apple Award due to increased scores. Semaj Brown’s applied pedagogy helped to elevate statistically negligible