Brookes is one of the young British poets I most admire. I first saw him read a year ago when - quite young - he won an Eric Gregory. At the time, his work struck me as having some of the rich sonic seriousness of the 60s poets Hill and Hughes. His sense of history, Englishness, and violence, also allies his style to early Gunn. Brookes is his own man, too, of course - which was evident from his fine reading at the Oxfam event the other night in London which I hosted, where he read alongside Philip Gross and others. I include several new unpublished poems of his below.
‘…with smooth-faced stone still holding back the trees,
nearish to a source of channeled water,
such water slowly working the stone pellucid.’
All that. And where the potshards
were few and broke at a King’s order;
where Mycenaean, Hittite, Seleucid
provided for their envoys to be heard
in quiet palaces, where at most a light breeze
might be indelicate as to their proclamations
sounded with all the innocence of power
as children mimic bird cries in the ruins.
Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable
-Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, US Army
Even on polling day, when this country
is less a failed state, more a fucked
polity which our bodies dance
improbably close to catastrophe,
I still pray to the choreographer.
Blood on the electoral map
appears at least proportionate
to a marked increase in voter turnout
and while grief daily extends its franchise
universal suffrage happens
in every choice or abstinence.
This bellum omnium contra omnes
parades itself through briefing rooms
and litters up the ballot box
in ways our intel can’t explain.
Whether we help or not, it carries on.
Hard as a piece of the nether millstone
is the heart of leviathan;
there in his neck remaineth strength
and we're all at pains to understand him.
poems by James Brookes.