22 Feb 2018
Demy hardback, 72pp
Telegraph Poetry Book of the Month
'This book sings.'
Lewis Buxton, The Norwich Radical
‘a work of learned wit, formal ingenuity and dazzling wordplay’
Tristram Fane Saunders, Telegraph
'The complexity of Brookes’ poems, the linguistic difficulty and intricate rhyme scheme, though treacherous to navigate and labour intensive at times, marks the lexical filigree of his craft, offset by superbly frank, down-to-earth humour, and those vital singular images which cut across the difficulty, bringing into balance a superbly rich and rewarding set of finds.'
In Spoils James Brookes advances a lyrical, frank and unsparing consideration of the England in which we find ourselves. A fascination with our land, yes, but, as the poet asserts, ‘Patriotism? No. I don’t lack the lingo – /no matter what I might offer in my defence / these jangled syllables stay the chains of jingo’. While retaining the historical interest and folkloric reinvention of his spectacular debut Sins of the Leopard (Salt, 2012), Brookes has clarified his poetic concerns into the less comfortable questions of freedom and liberty. In this new book his praise of the achievements of one figure is necessarily tempered by a curt frustration at the lives not lived as a result, of the successes never to be and, again and again, the suppression of women’s attainment. But these poems do not preach or lecture; rather, they plumb the deep well of history and language and come up each time with a glittering fragment. His is the work of archaeolexicology, of salvage; from the depths of our soil Brookes lifts his words, the spoils of his work, and sets them, restored, in burnished lines. These poems display an astounding euphony under hands that pinch at the language, creating whorls and bridges, points of contact based on sound. In this way ‘ramsons’ are confused with ‘ransoms’, ‘aorist’ nudges at the ‘aortic arch’, and ‘agrimony’ suggests ‘alimony’, reminiscent of a play on ‘antinomy’ and ‘antimony’ in Sins of the Leopard. Here too is the weirdness of heraldry, the intrigue of politics and war, as well as a rich and intimate portrait of ‘seductive’ Sussex county through the long sequence of ‘Antigeorgics’, all finely drawn by a poet with an eye for texture, for material, for the physical stuff of the world. Everywhere in Spoils there is struggle, conflict, but the pantheon of strivers that Brookes employs assert his skill as a poet of high humanity, unshakeable conviction, and a consummate talent.
LRB Bookshop Book of the Week
'This book sings.' Lewis Buxton for The Norwich Radical
'Thank goodness James Brookes is back: Spoils pinballs through the centuries with the same freewheeling imagination,
linguistic boldness and musical intelligence we’ve come to expect. Brookes is unafraid of venturing into some of
history's – and the dictionary’s – dustier corners to bring back treasures, and my how they glow.'
Praise for Sins of the Leopard (Salt, 2012), shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize:
‘The astonishingly accomplished debut of a poet who will surely take his place among the very best of his generation.’
‘In Brookes’s hands, “Britain is real again”, suddenly lit up by the fierce glint of a scouring intelligence.’
‘The weight of each line here, each clause and syllable, is perfectly judged . . . 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.’