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Vol.3. No. 3. April - June 2010





Barrie Darke
Bruce J. Berger
Chad Norman
Christian Ward
Chuma Nwokolo Jr
Claire Askew
Colin Gallant
Davide Trame
Gary Beck
Ivor W. Hartmann
Katie Metcalfe
M C Hardwick
Michael Conley
Minna Salami
Pete Court
Roger Elkin
Warren Paul Glover
George Freek


Book Title: The English Sweats

Author:  James Brookes

Publisher: Pighog Press

Date: 17 December 2009

Reviewer: Katie Metcalfe




The English Sweats by James Brookes is a striking book. Beautifully presented and entirely surprising. Each poem wraps the reader in cotton and bramble bushes. It is immediately apparent by the title and the post card correspondence decorated cover, as well as the thought-provoking image of a young soldier in front of a rickety garden fence, that Brookes is going to tackle large, serious questions of life. His distinctive, well constructed poems prompt the reader, repeatedly, to think and question the idea of the self and belonging, in times gone by and in today’s contemporary society.


Brookes is very much in control of his subjects from which he has sourced his inspiration; Roman Britain, Medieval Sussex and the WWII, including fictionalized stories from his own family, which had, according to the book’s notes, ‘been reported to me first, second or third hand.’ Not once does he lose his focus in this exceptional first collection, ensuring a note-worthy depth of complexity, and a continual confidence of tone, rhythm and voice. There is apprehension, drama and human interaction, and Brookes knows just how to manipulate these aspects to convey the emotive elements in his work. He makes the most of the richness of the English language, concentrating it to successfully create just the right atmosphere. He has carefully considered the shape of each poem, each line break and syllable. His interpretation of historical events is convincing and utterly engaging.  


Louis Simpson said: ‘The aim of writing is to convey a feeling – by creating an the reader the impression that he is witnessing something real, that he is passing through an experience.’ And this is precisely what Brookes has achieved. He starts with a poem that tightens the throat, and that grip isn’t loosened as you progress through the 34-page book. The reader is the bee, the poems the honey that gradually immerse the lemon fizz coloured wings. These poems picture, they question, they challenge.


The Guinea Pig Club a poem about a drinking club formed by WWII patients, who were in hospital receiving reconstructive plastic surgery, stirs a whole manner of familiar and unfamiliar emotions;


That gaze, following days as though each were a dream;

One eye’s bleary watercolour cobalt.


Where as the language in Two Seasons for the Trees-Exe Line falls off the tongue like meat off the bone;


Growing mere graft, myrrh,

more roads, grist and rage


Imagery in his exquisitely crafted and sinister poem Badger leaves the reader swallowing with a dry throat.


Alive, gone tumour-mad, fleeing the cull

of its own acute senses; tight muzzle

knowing its own tagged conservation zone

for every groped root and whiff of fox-piss

and that last feral part that must shunt

hard-shoulder for tubercular lebensraum.


As does the poem Mink, with just as much efficiency. 


Down the flooded season, down through swept

grasses to the puckered banks, the mink slipped

and was gone, without so much a splash.


The shivers are plentiful throughout the compilation, where every word has worked for its place. Brookes undoubtedly creates a convincing historical vision, within this collection, which is rich, warm and deeply intellectual. It deserves time. 


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Katie Metcalfe is a Teesside author, published poet and the editor of ‘Beautiful Scruffiness’ Creative Writing Magazine. She’s currently in her third year of a Creative Writing degree at the University of Cumbria. In the pipeline there is a novel, a poetry collection, and a dark music and alternative lifestyle magazine ‘Wyrd Words & Effigies, due for release in January 2010. She takes inspiration for writing primarily from everyday occurrences, mental health subjects, world mythology and the North.



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