Not the best book he’s ever written, but not the worst I’ve ever read

A review by Pania Brown*

Some advice. Calling your sixth book of poetry (apparently it’s possible to write that many poems) Floods Another Chamber is maybe not such a good start? All I can think of is the Titanic and the arguments about the third or fourth chamber flooding and the rivets giving way and the reasons why the unsinkable sinks … but I digress, as does author James Brown, often. May as well call it Another Poetry Book rather than conjuring images of sinking ships. Just a thought. Aye, aye captain! Full steam ahead!

There is too much
poetry in the world

and yet

here you are.

That’s page 11! The first poem is on page 11. That’s because the contents page is three pages long! Pack your water bottles and a warm blanket folks, you’re in for a poetry marathon. And if you think that first poem is highly ironic, I feel James Brown might be having a wee laugh at our expense.

This is not a poetry book for the faint-hearted. Somewhere around page 80 I lost the will to live, and I’m almost sure he did too. At least I could cut to the short ones, of which, thank goodness, there are some. There are even some that rhyme and make some sort of sense. But just as you ease into the swing of rhymes and poems with cute characters, you are transported into the easy-listening world of AM radio, and not only does Brown diss ‘Baker Street’ (c’mon, man, with that riff??), ‘Hotel California’ (sacrilege!) and ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, he then precedes to tear into the Boss!

There comes a time in one’s life where the dial automatically tunes in to the soundtrack of our lives, and I for one am proudly riding that downtown train. (For the record, my friend Mel Parsons does a great cover of ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and I’d challenge you not to change your mind after hearing it!)

Floods Another Chamber quickly becomes the ‘Hotel California’ of my year. I can check out any time I like, but I do feel that I can never leave. It’s taken me as long to write this review as it took to write the book.

I’ll stick with the positive and say I really liked ‘The Real Humpties’, because it still cracks me up after all these years and is a true story involving real, imaginary characters. It’s cheating to just retell a story from your childhood, though, isn’t it? Shouldn’t Brown’s brother get royalties or something? I guess retelling a true story is better than the imaginary-life ones, though. ‘How I Met my Wife’ (you don’t have one, technically, and you’re not called Murray) or ‘My Ill-Conceived Children’ (you’ve only got two!) and, God save us, ‘Red Rocks’. Family intervention!!!

Anyway, on a more positive note, I like that there are lots of satisfying letter j’s in ‘Janet and John go to the Book Launch’. Who knew alliteration could be so soothing? But there’s a typo when The Poet calls Janet ‘Janice’! Just goes to show that even writers make stuff-ups.

After that poem, I skimmed through a lot (some of them don’t even look like poems), until I got to ‘Here’s Giles with the Numbers’. It’s bloody funny, although I’m lost as to why the poet worries about ‘failed poems’ when this book is chock-full of absolute crowd-pleasers! And I liked the bit about the rabbit.

The seventh poetry book is the poetry world’s version of the difficult second album – much anticipated, but always found to be a little wanting, no matter how much people fib. To quote Echo and the Bunnymen, nothing lasts forever.

Looking forward to whatever comes next from James Brown (no relation to James Brown), but hoping it doesn’t leave me staring into the garden and wondering whether to have sausages or chicken for dinner.

* Any similarity to the author’s sister, either living or dead, is a coincidence.

You can read Pania Brown's review of Warm Auditorium by James Brown here.

Floods Another Chamber by James Brown is available to buy now. p/b, $25.