How is Jericho Brown's poem "Track Five: Summertime" similar to the George Gershwin song "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are more dissimilarities between the references in Jericho Brown's "Track 5: Summertime" and "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess by Gershwin than similarities. Nonetheless, Jericho Brown is definitely responding to Gershwin's "Summertime" and creates a parallelism between "Track 5: Summertime" and Gershwin's "Summertime." One instance of response and parallelism is Brown's references to a mother and father. In "Track 5," "daddy cans at the refinery," while in "Summertime," "daddy is rich." "Mama" in Track 5 says the speaker "should be thankful" that racial brutality isn't worse than it is and wait to outgrow acne, while in "Summertime," "ma is good lookin.'"

Another instance of contrasting parallelism is in the reference to voice and singing. In "Track 5" the speaker's voice "moans like a lawn mower" and "hacks at you," while in "Summertime," the voice is hushed away from crying and will "rise up singin'." In addition, in "Track 5" the speaker's voice "ain't sweet" and "It won't fly," but in "Summertime" the owner of the voice that is being hushed from crying and that will rise "up singin'" will also spread "wings" and "take to the sky."

The only thing in "Track 5" that sings is Willie Baker's voice when he pleads "Please" while being beaten by schoolmates with "all that leather" of belts after school: "All that leather and still / A please that sounds like music," a "tune" that "Ain't half the blues." The final contrasting and painfully ironic parallelism is that daddy at the refinery and Mama with the loving but wholly inadequate advice, stand by helplessly (public education is compulsory after all, regardless of wickedness, failure and brutality), while in "Summertime," the speaker assures the owner of the voice being hushed from crying that "There's a nothin' can harm you with daddy and mammy standin' by," although the overall context of Porgy and Bess makes this assertion highly doubtful and the precursor of daddy at the refinery and Mama with the sad advice.

[Below is included a link to Jericho Brown's Web site.]