James Brookes’ Sins of the Leopard

 
 
 
James Brookes was born in 1986 and grew up in rural Sussex, a few minutes’ walk from Shelley’s boyhood home of Field Place. In 1999 he won the top academic scholarship to Cranleigh School in Surrey, going from there to read English & Creative Writing at Warwick University, where he was senior student editor of the Warwick Review, and to postgraduate study at the College of Law. He received a major Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2009 and his pamphlet The English Sweats was published by Pighog Press in the same year. His work has appeared in a wide variety of places including Poetry Review, The Rialto, Horizon Review, The White Review, The Wolf, the Swedish journal Signum and on a church pew in Taunton, Somerset. He has been invited to read at the Cuisle Festival in Limerick and the Poetry Hearings Festival in Berlin, as well as the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford and the Ledbury Poetry Festival. In 2011 he was awarded a Hawthornden International Writer’s Fellowship. He has returned to Cranleigh, where he is currently the Williams Librarian and also teaches English and History. He lives there with his fiancée, the poet and critic Charlotte Newman.
 
 
 
 
 
 
“This remarkable debut sees tales of treachery, guilt and love play out against the whole canvas of history. Empires rise and fall; the beasts of Britain stalk from the age of Rome to the new age of austerity; heroes and villains take their stands on the Sussex Downs and on the Pennines, from the Death Star to Dancing on Ice. A courageous study of the violence and beauty of belonging, this book also celebrates what really endures: the lure of power, the pain of betrayal, the solace of family and home. Vividly imagined and critically acclaimed, this is poetry for now and for years to come.”
 
 
 
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“James Brookes writes a wonderfully rich and achieved poetry which reminds me of our very best practitioners such as Geoffrey Hill and David Harsent. His profound knowledge of the resources of English history and its protean language does not, however, mean he works with a restricted scope; it is a grounding for his investigation of the world’s strange treasurehouse conducted with such a challenging and imaginative musical power it is hard to believe that Sins of the Leopard is his first full collection.”

– Ian Duhig
 
 
 
“James Brookes, a recent Gregory Award winner, gets graphically muscular purchase on the bloody business of English history in his impressive debut … In Brookes’s hands, “Britain is real again”, suddenly lit up by the fierce glint of a scouring intelligence, brought grippingly alive in a language that combines Anglo-Saxon clout with Latinate gravitas. This is in every sense a generous book from a generously gifted young poet.”

– Andrew McCulloch, TLS
 
 
 
“The weight of each line here, each clause and syllable, is perfectly judged. That phrase ‘dirigible angel’ is a mark of Brookes’ talent – it is at once lyrical, sonically logical and completely surprising. There is a strictness too, strongly evoking the poetry of Geoffrey Hill, as well as a playfulness more reminiscent of Paul Muldoon at his riddling best.”

– Tom Chivers, Hand + Star Review
 
 
 
“For its energy of expression, fearlessness and sheer verbal beauty, Sins of the Leopard is a magnificent debut.”

– David Morley
 
 
 
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Concerning Plunder
 
 
On your coccyx, a gold contusion
holds the sinews, ropebraid tarred
to the treasure ship of
your listing body.

I hurry to kiss it,
with the old piracy
woven into us
before torques ravelled.

My not-ancestors, the White Rajahs
gave Sarawak a gold fielded ensign;
but it never turned
to an honest Gibraltar.

I plant my kisses
above your arse,
the crack of your
terra nullius.

I’ve seen the blueprint of the slave ship Brookes,
the cargo in its wooden gut
is at least in part
my inheritance.

And this house that holds
seven tenths of my life
could never own me,
though the hold stays tight.

My roving dog
with a stick in his mouth
loosed on the fields
forgives my horror

that the branch in his maw
like a spar or a mast
is the still fur-clad
foreleg of a deer,

a leg that once sailed
in a whole perfect craft
never threatening to spill
its slight ingots of bone.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Portents
 
cui candor morte redemptus

                    caption to Henry Peacham’s Emblem 75
 
 
The week stoat turned to ermine,
it entered our houses:
this wasting illness.

Too proud from the offing
we went by the old signs:
civet and leeches,

phrenology, dowsing.
The fever still came on:
it broke our houses;

we were a client kingdom.
We turned at bay then:
we wove isti mirant.

Who now is our vicegerent?
we ask, half-despairing,
clinging to relics

precision-tooled, imported
from Arimathea,
things snuck through customs:

the twice-flowering hawthorn
and a bowl for bleeding:
a needful foreign

body, a fleam, a lancet,
the spear of Longinus.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Eric Gill between Wisdom and Gaiety
 
 
Listen, between you and me, between
ourselves, be we shamefaced, be we seraphs
hearing celestial music or piping to the children,
be we the discretion of our souls’ flared serifs
or the broadcasting house of our bodies stripped, sans
pretence of innocence, be we outlaw or sheriff,
yes we’re the madness fingered by Montaigne,
the God-botherers and dog-botherers of all life,
our areolae roughened to bark & forgotten
with the spume & the salt-wind between our teeth,
and listen I’m sorry I can’t be more sorry than
this: joyously knowing each other, no buts, no ifs,
OBSCULTA•O•FILLII we make good when we are forsaken.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Ordeal by Fire, By Water
 
          i.m. Ambulance Driver Slater
 
 
War-time dark. Hedgerows by slatted headlights.
Your ambulance convoy negotiating B roads.
And one of the two in the back is a burns case,
the worst kind, will not quiet. The other, you’d have him up
     with you for his eyes alone  –
               but his breath clouds the windscreen.

You’ve missed out on France: were ice-skating
on the billet’s pond, fell through the thin roof
into that unreal house of darkness beamed
by frozen branches, skirt billowing just
as it did when you, a child, caught
                         a loose coal from the grating.

Water the most dark, blacker still than water
at Balham tube when you were first on scene.
The silence as it was then, with the limbs.
Somehow, hands pulled you out. Into the night
you went dancing, like this patient
               who quick-stepped with a squadron’s

petrol ration. Each moment’s a test
or gift. Now the van stalls. Now ignition.
Now ice shudders from the upright exhaust.
 
 
 
 
from Sins of the Leopard (Salt Publishing, 2012).

Order Sins of the Leopard.
 
 
 
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