rymour books independent scottish publisher
The Ever-Evolving Strategy of Derek J Brown
‘In opposition to Aristotelean logic is what one might call paradoxical logic … Paradoxical logic was predominant in Chinese and Indian thinking, in the philosophy of Heraclitus, and then again, under the name of dialectics, it became the philosophy of Hegel and Marx.’ Erich Fromm
Clearly these are big questions which may have no answers, or multiple answers, or, how ever unlikely, one true answer. Nevertheless, it is by looking at Glasgow (and the world) in this way that Brown constructs the poems of ‘A Strategy of Mirrors’. It is commonplace in Brown’s poetry to find the mythical, mystical and mysterious rubbing shoulders with café interiors, bar stools and someone smoking a cigarette outside a hospital entrance.
to a universe
How can we trust in our senses to tell us the truth about the universe when we are the universe and the universe is us:
take this body
What soul is hidden in the music of the universe is reflected in Brown’s attention to syntax, cadence and rhythm. Browns poems have subtle but pointed rhythmic patterns imbued with the resonance of song. As in the famous Gillespie algorithm, ‘What happens is what is possible to happen, drawn from a random choice’ of variables available to Brown’s observational psyche. This same principle probably applies to all generational language creation though rather than go further down this road it might be beneficial to mention that Peter Clive has written an excellent short introduction to Brown’s collection which gives ease of access to the poetry itself.
Language as Music
As I strolled, fully possessed by 21st Century wonder, through Glasgow’s Alexandra park I overheard several groups of young people arguing amongst themselves over the question of ‘What is poetry?’ One young woman cried passionately into the Spring-like 1st of March sky that ‘Poetry is language as music’. Yet another declaimed ‘poetry is metaphor’. To which a very serious seagull answered, ‘All signifying-systems of representation are metaphors: mathematics, music, sculpture, painting, language written and spoken, but only language as sound is truly beautiful. Poetry and song are the greatest achievements of leaden-footed humanity, and I can fly, so fuck them.’ You know the kind of thing … happens every day. I was baffled by the fact that the Poetry Police weren’t on hand to keep order should anything go awry. In my day it would’ve been a swift boot up the arse… And I thought to myself, what we call metaphor is actually metaphor contained within metaphor. And home did I head to ponder. On pondering, the question arose as to what precisely are the algorithmic qualities of music? Surely modern synthetic sound production is algorithm dependent?
The magic thing is that human beings can perform such tasks of sound generation without ever having to know the first thing about algorithms, or whether the symbolic representation of sound is metaphor within metaphor. Our senses tell us. We know intuitively how to mimic the world - process our sense data. It is another of the great gifts nature bequeaths us and will continue to do so for as long as there is an eco-system on this planet, or anywhere else, of which we are a part. Brown’s poetry has a wonderful sense of music, of language as music, (and there are very few decent poems which are free from ‘language as music’). In Brown’s Strategy we find both formal and informal structures. There is close attention to the sound of the words, to the rhythm and cadence of the syllables, to line length, to stanza structure, though this does not come from counting the number of syllables and stresses in a line, but from the heart of Brown’s consciousness, from his familiarity with and feeling for music, for language as music, for poetry. It comes from something as vague as sensitivity or sentiment, yet is accurate, truthful and real. One such highly musical poem is,
The Day Gene Vincent Came to Glasgow
furnishing this vast aloneness,
moonlight's cold infractions
I fill a small yet incurable space,
howls of infants born in bitterness.
There is music in its content and its cadence. The location is just outside Glasgow’s somewhat gothic Royal Infirmary, but this location is entangled with the thoughts occurring in the narrator’s consciousness, a consciousness that while located in one place (the narrator’s mind) is contemplating other times, places and ideas. There is also the location of the poem itself as ink on a page in a physical book: contained within its closed world which is “A Strategy of Mirrors”. It is winter and perhaps someone close to the narrator has just died or is seriously ill. We are “in December’s mortal grip”.
Needless to say, this a deeply thought-provoking collection of poems. It is an entire world, and a world-view, contained within 70 or so poems. Each poem is executed skilfully and reads with entertainment and ease. There is a lot going on here, reflection upon reflection upon reflection. Reading A Strategy of Mirrors is a fascinating journey, by turns melodic, philosophical and abundantly rich with images.
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In A Strategy of Mirrors Derek Brown has given us ‘an intangible / glimpse of what might have been Atlantis’. He describes a ‘City Built on The Holy Ground of Contradiction,’ his mirrors drawing us into a world populated by ‘people that have never heard the sound of their own voices’. Themes of estrangement and alienation are manifested through the false oppositions of our world of ‘fool-proof imperfections,’ contradictions that create the space in which we imagine ourselves.
This collection expresses exactly the kind of vision I seek in the poetry I read, an understanding acquired past the limits of exhaustion, a knowledge that turns metaphysics into a childish toy. In an age in which pestilence have taken away our naïve assumptions, this collection belongs in the space they have vacated.