Stephen Brockwell’s Complete Surprising Fragments of Improbable Books (Mansfield Press, A Stuart Ross Imprint, 2014)
I confess that I have never had much interest in reading Brockwell and no idea why. I guess one can’t read everyone. This book made me realize I have been missing out. The cover, of stained folio pages with the title in trembling cartoony font, is appealing, as is the way the sections are organized, each array of poems from these supposed manuscripts beginning with a creepily quaint illustration. So “from The Prime Minister’s Nursery Rhymes for Insolent Children” has the picture of a woodblock girl skipping rope under it, her dark hair whipped up like flames. The Virgil for this book is purportedly the “angelic stranger” or daimon, Karikura who appeared to the befuddled geek author to give him these scratchings from incomplete texts. As funny as this device can be (for instance, when he critiques Brockwell, who has written “gorgeous sunset…beyond words” as being a fool suitable for a slagging), I didn’t feel it was a necessary one. Maybe there needed to be more of these pieces than five for me to become absorbed by the “voice.” Regardless, Brockwell manages to be poetic, political, humorous and sharply formal in many of these poems. Some of my favorite sections are, “from The Big Book of Confessions & Apologies by Self-Aware Addicted Persons,” “from Cantos of the 1%” and “from Pindaric Odes to Elementary Substances.” It is truly impossible to summarize this book. I don’t want to. It is too wildly-leaping and yet beautifully-grounded for that. Instead I want to close this extensive omnibus review with Brockwell’s lovely poem (resonant of both Al Purdy and George Elliot Clarke) “Water” (without the sweet visual of its gradated line breaks, sorry):
Best of all things has always been you, water,
trillions of your tilted flying Vs in
each human, fish and worm, each suck or sip
of breast milk, juice, ale, wine, tea and morphine,
each pre-and post-coital fluid (spit, sweat, tears
et cetera – to the uncertain greeting
of the egg and seed).
At least one molecule of you in me
passed through the body of some great person,
in the urine of Josef Stalin, say,
on an October morning in his youth;
it may be one I am passing on now
as a drop of saliva flies from my tongue
over this paper.
Better yet, one of your numberless flowed
through the Norman tongue of Pierre Trudeau
paddling down the Lievre in buckskin
or trudging through a blizzard on the Hill.
May that one lodge in a dormant neuron
of an untapped cortex of my brain,
singing of glaciers.