I was given James Brown’s The Year Of The Bicycle when it was published in 2006 and enjoyed it a lot.
Floods Another Chamber is his sixth collection, and I expected to feel the same. I didn’t have quite the emotional reaction as I’d hoped. It took me until about the third read-through to start engaging with the work. I don’t think Brown’s style has necessarily changed, but my taste has.
I tend to look for myself in poetry, and when I can’t relate, I move on. A lot of this work explores Brown’s own experiences, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that as a young (ish), non-athletic (I don’t think I’ve gotten on a bicycle since 2002) woman, I didn’t immediately find a way in. That probably makes me egocentric, an argument furthered by the fact that several of the standout moments for me were in pieces where Brown examines poems, the poet, and the nature of poetry. Here, I found myself.
Like this stanza in the middle of Unresolved Poem.
… When I looked inside
Inside myself, all I saw were people having
conversations. Some were animated, some not,
and in quite a few one person was sitting in
takes over your life
and makes it sad.
This loneliness suggests to me several things – how poems might live inside a person, how self-examination is necessary to produce a good poem, how the writing life can be an isolating one. I’m a sucker for a good final stanza and that one does it for me.
That feeling echoes throughout the book, particularly in the side-by-side poems Tlaloc (God of Rain), and Ghosting. Each has a sense of eerie beauty, a narrator on the search for something, and a final stanza that could hint at malice.
Our tongues taste
I am beside myself.
You are beside me
Even in those poems that don’t have an emotional impact for me, there is a cleverness that comes from Brown’s years of experience. His skill is apparent in moments of sly wit; a deft turn-of-phrase; an unpicking of theory; a very sure-footed word selection. It’s like the snap of light off the tale of a fish as it about-turns under water. This is apparent in the poem Postmodernism Explained.
You’re dreaming. In the
dream you fall asleep and dream
you’re writing. If to
write is to reflect
what you’ve already read, and
thus to reread, to
read is also to
rewrite. What are you saying?
Wake up, you tell me.
Along with the examined life of the poet, there is a recurrent theme of time and its concepts, which plays out in the poem Museum for the Future. The poem has a suspenseful, recalcitrant tone and reminds me of my own ability to procrastinate and argue with editors when I should be “rewriting” with “innovative adaptability.” The final stanza is a perfect example of that slicing wit.
Given a choice, I’d take the firing squad
and look the bastards in the eye because
even with your hands tied and back to the wall
they could still completely miss the point
(I did wonder if perhaps this last could also be levelled at certain poetry reviewers).
And here is the poet again, in lines like ‘You will never be employed in an industry that makes money’, and ‘It is possible to show too loudly’, from the poem The AM Sound, which also contains the titular ‘With every repeat of the desperate riff and chorus, / your despair floods another chamber’.
In Letter to Hugo, we see it all – the poet, the act of poetry, and the passage of time. I found myself in the frustration of the second stanza, which made me laugh and then stop when I got hit in the face with that darn fish.
Hugo, your poems continue to annoy me
Their main purpose seems to be to show
how clever you are… No domestic
detail for you, as if truth and beauty can never be
a walk in the park.
These lines, while not the final stanza, tied things off nicely for me. The man has made his point.
I think we write poems because it makes us happy
I think we rewrite poems to make life better
But don’t rewrite your poems
to please me, Hugo. Poetry is freedom.
Reviewed by Sarah Lin Wilson
Floods Another Chamber
by James Brown
Published by VUP