A Place Where You Can Bring Things Together: Andrew Burke reviews ‘Open House’ by David Brooks

Open House by David Brooks, UQP 2015.

open house david brrokesThere are many themes in David Brooks new book Open House, many values of love, many heart felt convictions, many parables and narratives. The collection’s cohesion is the poet’s voice, borne out of colloquial language, stated in an intimate cadence and brought together by true conviction.

The main theme of the collection is man’s cruelty to animals. And this animal kingdom encompasses every living creature – from slugs to elephants. Mankind should live at peace with all creatures. As Francis Ponge once wrote: We only have to lower our standard of dominating nature, and to raise our standard of participating in it, in order to make this reconciliation take place.

Even though some poems here are polemical, they are not blunt force instruments. The poems are persuasive and thoughtful, sharing a belief with the reader rather than wielding language like a bludgeon. But I am saying too much of what they are not: here is an example of what they are – from the poem ‘Phasmid’:

They call them Phasmatidae, I think, the genus,
though I might well be wrong;
the species I simply cannot trace: small
stick-like insects so perfectly disguised
you’d think them a part of a eucalypt until,
the wind or some sudden
disturbance of the leaves dislodging them, they fall
onto something not their colour. Match-length
scrolls of bark, they could be, though looking more closely
you think something more delicate, utterly.

Three more verses expand on the theme until this last verse:

The next day the car was gone
and the creature also from my mind until,
driving in again, a few days later still,
and getting out of the car, I saw her
lying less than a metre from me, her hind-part
just crushed by my driver’s-side wheel.
I picked her up, of course, and buried her beneath
the tree from which I’ve always thought she came
and since then, for eleven years or more, I’ve
wondered what could be their name.

One of the great strengths of Brooks style is his clarity of vision. When poetry in English was polluted by faux philosophy and stylistic filigree in the late 19th century, Pound and Eliot et al went to Eastern poetry for a cure – the image was at the heart of the new poetry, the sharp image transporting emotions from the poet to the reader via the page. We hardly notice such a technique in our contemporary poetry until it is used in an exceptionally excellent manner – or the reverse. Here Brooks uses the clarity of the senses to paint pictures which carry vibrant thoughts without force or flippancy.

Almost always there is something
flickering on the edge of our attention, like someone
at the back of a crowd, trying to catch our eye.
Sometimes it delivers its message, some-
times in doesn’t.
…………..This last three months or so
there has been a long row of pumpkins
in a farmer’s field, running parallel to the highway …

Five verses of meditation on pumpkins later, Pumpkins on the Koper Road ends with these lines:

The mystical significance of pumpkins quite
escapes me. But maybe that’s the point: that it’s
one of the businesses of things to go, one of
the businesses of poets to try to hold them.

A simple imagistic poem follows, August:

No wind, and yet
a flock of tiny
to the road like leaves.

Some of these small poems lie in the text like a pause for breath, both physical and thoughtful. There are love poems here, and a small amount of elegies, and some poems near the end of the collection focussed on our relationship with sheep – ‘Reading to the Sheep’ is a delightful poem, prompting many trains of thought (see Emery Brook’s launch speech for more). The Lambs carries much weight in its approach to lambs and sheep as used for tales in the Bible – Brooks’s reading is rich and thoughtful:

and a reminder too, that ‘sacrifice’
means to make sacred: it’s all
to do with lambs, rams, ewes and wethers, it seems to me,
not God,
a way to justify a choice of food
we know to be cruel beyond measure
but for which we nevertheless continue to hanker, though
not just that but – back to the tales – the curious way in
read carefully, we find they admit to it all …

Open House ‘is a place where you can bring things together’, as David Brooks says about poems in one poem. It’s a healthy size at over 150 pages and a multi-level collection, beautifully written

with its own intimate tones echoing long after you have put it down.

– Andrew Burke


Andrew Burke has been writing and publishing in Australia and beyond since the 60s. He holds a PhD from Edith Cowan University, and his current titles from Walleah Press are Undercover of Lightness (2012) and One Hour Seeds Another (2014) Burke blogs at http://hispirits.blogspot.com/

Open House is available from http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/Book.aspx/1336/Open%20House


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