Brenda Read-Brown’s poems are empathetic and welcoming. The first poem, “Decay”, is an honest audit and ends,
“The legs aren’t in bad shape,
though one is angled
from repair to some old damage.
The feet, bony as frogs’,
are planted firmly,
though the pedestal has disappeared;
and all of it is lichened
with brown spots.
So, I turn away from the mirror,
and remind myself,
it’s not all about you, Brenda. “
The poem’s persona feels like that cheerleading best friend who is both honest and capable of making you feel a bit more upbeat. True to her word, the remaining poems aren’t all about her. “Love poems” looks back at a lost love acknowledging that “it wasn’t right then,/ and would be wrong still now” but there’s still that what if?
“But still, I want to see him,
relive the kingfisher and the swans
and the fish and chips by the harbour
and the cinema with armchairs,
in one brief meeting; lunch, perhaps.
We would smile, and talk about our children,
while thinking of other things;
and forget all those hotel rooms.“
The casual, conversational language belies its poignancy. The narrator knows full well there won’t be a romantic ending but still wants to know that the boy she remembers turned out OK. “Diminished” is also poignant without being sentimental, its final stanza, “Once, she loved to travel;/ explored food, journeyed relationships;/ now, she has her crossword, her TV./ Once she was bigger than I am.” The final line conveys the role reversal from the parent as carer to the child and the now adult child caring for an ageing parent. Later a silken-voiced “Street singer” “smiles as if he’s got the joke/ but feels too shy to laugh”.
Brenda Read-Brown draws from a wider experience too. In “Poetry has no learning objective”, her time teaching in prison leads her to observe,
“The man with a cobra
tattooed across his forehead
might be a gentle vegan.
Some people spend their spare time
The kid ‘you’ll need to watch for’
will give me images
fresh as mermaids.
Rhyme can hurt,
and metaphor disturb.”
It reminds us all of the power that words have to connect and communicate. Their conversational tone makes these poems easy to read aloud and their layers of empathy reward re-reading.