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brett maddux's blackbird, 4pm

The blackbird is always watching. brett a. maddux channels a more poignant worldview of the titular creature of his latest, blackbird 4pm.

Written by
Dan Osto

Photography by
Eaze & Michael Sisko

For Hartford poet brett a. maddux, the blackbird is always watching. Whether we are conscious of its presence, the world we merely inhabit is a larger aviary, always under the omnipresent eye of Turdus merula.

While this vision may strike some as ominous or apocalyptic in tone, maddux has found divine and domestic inspiration, channeling a more poignant worldview of the titular creature of his newest book, blackbird, 4pm.

Since the release of his first book, Regent, maddux has kept busy writing poetry, collaborating with Silk House Publishing to manage his own book label, WhichIsWhyPress, and shooting characteristically monochromatic photography through his popular DinersofConnecticut social media account, previously featured in Aislin.

It is enthralling to see different modes of maddux throughout all of these outlets, and even more interesting to watch as they all converge. All in the past few months, maddux started his book label, released his second collection of poetry, and presented a highly visual campaign of the 2018 Connecticut Democratic candidates, Jahana Hayes, Chris Murphy, and Ned Lamont via DinersofConnecticut--between all of the dining, of course.

He also recites his work at Greater Hartford subcultural events and indie rock basement shows alike. Witnessing all of these channels grow concurrently, with each monochromatic visual, each line of vociferous wordplay, each free floating cigarette, reflects of a more subtle, multifaceted vision from the poet behind the camera lens.

Following all this, we recently spoke with maddux about his endeavors and his second book blackbird, 4pm, which just came out this past November.

The poet writes on his release:


As indicated above, blackbird, 4pm resonates on numerous levels, both personal and cosmopolitan, internally, and environmentally. Through the title, which both references the titular bird and a particular time of day, maddux centers these observations through a nuanced lens, permeated by the abstraction of this mysterious creature and the cyclical passing of time.

Mostly written between the seasonally oppositional months of December 2017 and July 2018, blackbird is imbued with the reflections of a turbulent era, and a tumultuous life. In addition, it features a highly temporal nature, which spotlights a particular sequence beyond its prologue and epilogue.

photography by Eaze

“The blackbird in ‘memphis’ is a different blackbird than the one in ‘what children know,’ in every meaningful thematic sense, but it is representative of the same idea: for better or worse, everything returns.”

The collection starts off on a relatively tranquil note, something which seems ambivalently peppered throughout its subsequent morose wordplay and observations of society: “prologue” revels in the earliest lines of “the good hour” of our daily existence, a time left noticeably unspecific in a book which makes a point to define them.

Instead, this “good hour” is presumably the earliest hours of the day: separated from the conscious world, void of people and their strife.

This peaceful introduction is then jarred:

Then the birds come

Triggered by their presence, the world starts to sputter awake: “truth crawls out from under the blanket of the night,” and a morning fog of a daily drive to work is the last defense of epistemological ambiguity before reality kicks in. The juxtaposition of this prologue with the bloody and political “america, 12am” follows the humble morning commute like a kick in the teeth. Is the presence of the birds what defines the “good hour”? Or the harbinger of what comes after?

Looking at the first appearance of the blackbird in its titular poem, its presence appears more comforting:

& in dreams

the people

i love

do not

leave me

i know

& in dreams

their souls

are blackbirds


i know

maddux has revealed insight on his creation concerning the cyclical and relative nature of the blackbird:

It is the ways we repeat mistakes, the way love echoes through our lives, the wars our nation starts and never ends. It is about this broader idea that grief is this way too - grief pulses through your life in these sudden, unexpected ways, & you continue to feel that in passing moments as time goes by... you feel it less, & some days you might not feel it at all.

But every once in awhile, there it is. Everything is this way. & so to the extent this book is describing a day, it is also telling a story about all of these themes repeating. The blackbird in ‘memphis’ is a different blackbird than the one in ‘what children know,’ in every meaningful thematic sense, but it is representative of the same idea: for better or worse, everything returns. If you pay attention, you are surrounded by all of the things you love & challenged by all the things that hurt, & are called to be more present in the lives of the people you care about.

Photography by Michael Sisko

“Despite this deep-seated sorrow of regret and loss of human connection, there are glimmers of peace and hope that are carried on the wings of our ever-watching avifauna. As the loss of family likely drives the more intense emotions in the novel, so does the desire to create a new one.”

Even knowing this, the blackbird remains a fascinatingly elusive figure throughout the book. Many poems in the collection begin with their primary concerns, whether it be ruminations of death, God, or social injustice, only to be cast in the shadow of this avian apparition.

When the blackbird does appear, it evokes the cyclical nature of the content of each poem, often in some kind of emotionally rousing way. Looking again at the title poem, it expands the symbol beyond its tangible presence:

& all neighbors

come gather

around me

& wait to see

what it means

to return




that is a blackbird

& yes

that is one too

& each is your mother

or sister or brother

& they’re all waiting

for you