reviewed 2016 by Sue Boyle
The Brokenborough Poets’ recently published anthology, Fieldwork, is an absorbing and intriguing book. The seven authors are clearly passionate individualists: the poems are varied, interesting across a range of very different subjects and all accomplished in their craft. The anthology is also very well designed. The choice of fonts, the way each poem inhabits its properly balanced position on its page – these are pleasures in themselves not always achieved by every small press publisher of poetry.
One of the challenges of this relatively short book was to achieve coherence so that the reader could feel that there was sufficient common ground within this variety of material to give Fieldwork a sense of genuine purpose and identity. The reason I used the word ‘intriguing’ was that I felt that the anthology managed to meet this challenge and to resolve its necessary tensions of subject matter and approach very successfully.
Here are seven poets from the same part of the country who have worked together for ten years and might easily have fallen into the debilitating compromise of developing something of a common outlook and a common voice. Instead, they seem to have supported each other in maintaining and celebrating their creative differences. I loved the variety of their voices. Liz Carew, so meticulous and direct. Atherton Gray, the master of economy and surprise. David Lukens, tough, quirky and conversational. Matthew Oates using words so richly to open such rich seams of thought. John Richardson, balancing the formal and the experimental, the witty and the haunting with such skill. MM Season revels in startling subjects, deftly managed, with never a wasted word. The short ‘Wasp in my glass’ is one of the most arresting poems in the book.
Within this variety, there are certainly common threads, not so much on the surface of the poems, but at their core. These poets love landscape, both urban and rural, and have a strong sense of how environments shape, speak to, inspire and challenge human life. Sometimes this is conveyed by the way particular places are brought vividly alive – Aldeburgh by Sue Chadd; the Alhambra by Atherton Gray; Waterperry Wood by Matthew Oates; Knossos by John Richardson. At other times, you are simply aware how many of these poems have that instinctive sympathy and engagement with the world beyond the personal on which good writing must depend. The Brokenborough Poets LOOK and LISTEN to what is around them, and then use their sensitivity and skill with language to help their readers to HEAR and SEE.
Fieldwork brims with good poems, memorable lines and striking images. The Brokenborough Poets really do have things to say. And the cover design by Stevie Smith, a gloriously vibrant landscape meeting the deep seductive blue of an evening sky, is very well chosen to convey the rich variety of this book.