Five Islands Press 2007. ISBN 978 0 7340 3762 6
Brook Emery’s writing derives from a clear and defined space which, as often as not, is the political dimension. Yet essentially it’s a poetry abandoning certainty for ambiguity; dogged by doubt, raising more questions than it answers.
I can’t get my head around it. How did we devise
a concept like just war: the slain of the Lord
are dung upon the ground. I know there are distinctions
it is important to make and I don’t expect perfection
but the chicanery of subtle thought…
The poems in Emery’s new collection extend back to communal memories of a Bondi adolescence - in 'Thirty-six views of Bondi Beach' - acknowledging relationships that clearly remain important regardless of the passage of time. Memory is stripped bare in this affectionately recorded recollection of shared lives and early experiences. Its narrative qualities are elsewhere evident in poems such as ‘Feeding Birds’, recounting scattering bread for the gathered pigeons and gulls, ‘Knuckles uppermost, the hand appears / to rest on air, pivoting at the wrist as if / he were conducting time or prolonging / a gesture of farewell.’
Elsewhere, the descriptive is a little less foregrounded. 'Landscape' skates between the defined and the open-ended in its account of spending all day ‘half-lost in maps'. Studying the countryside from the ‘cold height' of a map, trees become dots, plains dominoes, and without an imaginative reassembling of the terrain’s contoured valleys, crevices and fissures one assumes there’d be few surprises in store. However,
Do not be misled, nothing here
is certain. The landscape is familiar
but somehow redolent of nightmare
an exchange of dissembling eyes
that misinterpret as alternatives intrude.
‘Landscape’ pulls up with harsh and attendant reality to the finality of ‘Late at night // a man is bashed by teenage boys, a girl / is lured into the bush and left to die’.
Emery's poetry is not aesthetically difficult – a concern for communication over obscuration? – yet is nevertheless demanding; the difficulty here is following the poet’s train of thought, his explosion of ideas that seeks to engage a responsive, responsible readership. Many poems are initially anchored in reality before drifting to speculation, as if to establish a point of mutual understanding with readers before the real work of the poem begins. Few remain purely narrative pieces, with most developing beyond the cosmetics of surface imagery to embrace a wondrous sense of the human capacity for love and loyalty, betrayal and disingenuity….
Emery is in turn optimistic, pragmatic, even fatalistic, his concerns triggers for our fears, for our strategies for survival, our roadmaps for hope. He is confronting - teasing intellectual strands here, fashioning connections there - and deeply personal. He questions the centre of his being: how involved am I in matters of the world? Am I absolved from its difficulties? Absorbed by them? Ranging from the realpolitik clearsightedness of the poems entitled ‘Monster’ (there are four) to subtly laid hints at an ambiguous presence others might term ‘God’, Emery writes with what could be readily described as balanced optimism. Yet he's not one to easily pin down. Who are we, beyond our mixed bag of responses to each occasion?
the world won’t be a safer or a fairer place
our willingness to wonder and to hurt will be the same.
But the sea may come up and, if we’re lucky
and not too afraid, we might press ourselves
against the edge of that one big wave, cling and let go.