layout and appearance of the book is attractive – lots of white space and a
nice small typeface, but easily legible. A lot of it doesn't seem like poems
at all. Rather, they seem like short essays, ruminations. With footnotes and
addenda to add interest. It is somehow not a book of poems, but a poet's
sketchbook – a book of notes and sketches and some more finished pieces, and
all the more interesting for that.
The title of the book is rather intriguing: what are Kinnayas? – a wonderful
idea that the Burmese Buddhists had – a creature that is half human, half
bird (a bit like a Harpie, then - the Greek idea of half woman/half bird).
Kinnayas weep for 700 years after being separated for one night! Brown likes
words and language; so he should! By using the word 'palimpsest' at least
twice in this volume, Brown has declared himself a member of the cultural
hegemony! (Artists, writers, dramatists and poets have to try and include
this word in their oeuvre wherever possible these days. But you
Many of the poems are to do with birds of some description. The first 'piece'
is about drawing blindfold birds – I think this is a great idea and I might
try it with my English students (or possibly my art students)! Put a
blindfold on and draw a bird – any sort of bird you like – then swop it with
your friend and get them to analyse it – as he suggests:
the intellect of the beady eye; the
absentmindedness of the missing tail; the meditative
sketch of an owl drawn in the hollow of a tree; the curiosity of a hen
pecking grits; the `
diligence of a dipper formed in short, neat lines; the flamboyance of a swirling
the things you may unwittingly reveal about your personality in a drawing.
And then he leaves a space for you to draw your bird. And then he leaves a
space for your friend's analysis of your drawing. A neat idea – apparently it
works with pig drawings, too.
The book has many references to birds – this is the leitmotiv of the book.
In 'Field Notes' you sense the pure enjoyment that Brown gets from simply
observing and identifying different species on Devon's estuarine mud
flats. Birds also get the
humourous treatment in the 'Abecedary of Birds' and 'Mythology of Birds'. Other
poems use the avian theme more laterally and metaphorically. A nice line at the end of
'Audubon Becomes Obsessed with Birds' reads:
because birds are like ideas – they
visit us fleetingly, nest, then disappear.
longest piece in the book is a sort of prose poem. By the author's account,
this is a 'found' piece – collaged and collated from articles written in
various different languages, by an unknown author – they were found inside
a collection of 1950's travel magazines. Brown translated or interpreted them
and put them into some sort of sequence – and put his own stamp on them. The
title he has chosen for this piece is strange, and it colours your reaction
to the piece before you start: 'The Diary of an Ugly Human Being'. Thi title
Brown borrowed from a line in a book by Jamaica Kincaid – 'The thing you have
always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: a
tourist is an ugly human being.'
The 'tourist' goes to some remote and wild places in an unnamed country – it
could be Afghanistan or Mongolia or somewhere in the Balkans. It reminds me
vaguely of the writings of Patrick Leigh Fermor. The 'tourist' travels from
place to place and there are very acute descriptions of people and
landscapes. Everywhere he goes, he seems to receive huge hospitality from
people, who perhaps have little to give, yet share it gladly. Poignantly, at
the end, he turns to say goodbye to his new-found friends, and they have
These poems are an intriguing mixture – sad, playful, philosophical. They
somehow show that there need be no barriers in poetry, that all these things
can be combined. His poems are musical and tender, but written with great
© Carey Moon