All Of Us Reticent, Here, Together. Stephen Brockwell. Mansfield Press. A Stuart Ross Book. Toronto, Ontario. 2016.
"Dust falls over the ocean too, as I recall."
- The Saline Diminishments
All Of Us Reticent, Here, Together feels like a departure and an arrival for the multi-talented Stephen Brockwell. Today's book of poetry has long admired the work of Brockwell, All Of Us Reticent, Here, Together is his fourteenth or fifteenth poetry title and we have been watching all along.
The departure, if we can call it that, is an emotional one. Brockwell has always had a keenly expressive and fiercely intelligent voice but with All Of Us Reticent, Here, Together Brockwell draws back the curtains to reveal the inner dimensions of a complicated heart. Brockwell has always had an ample tool box of poetic tools to draw from but with this latest book he ups the ante, the closer you get to the heart the sharper the poems become.
This book was edited for press by the omnipresent and galactic Stuart Ross and it shows. It is tight as a drum.
And there are a couple of list poems and you know how much we like those here at Today's book of poetry.
The Location of Culture
At a truckstop counter in Paris.
Over by the Starbucks in Nagoya, I didn't understand a
word. Inside Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure, finest beans in
Iowa, I caught a word I knew.
Curbside near a Philly cheesesteak joint on a sizzling
Friday in August, Brandon insists we take it with
Under plane trees and palms at the San Diego Zoo, polar
bears soak on wet concrete.
Underneath the oak, a bench has been installed, site for
lapdogs, evening weed, Viola-Cesario soliloquies.
Through the ear canal, the caw of the crow on the street
lamp resonates in the ossicles.
Across Coltrane's reed.
In deer-hide drums I wish I had an ear for.
In neck, fret, and peg, braced spruce and manicured nail.
Through humbucker and valve.
At the Blackburn Arms where Jack McGuire performs
songs no one hears over the off-key accompaniment of
Through noise-cancelling Beats, Bluetooth Queen of
Notwithstanding my mother's Sinatra, my daughter's
Throughout the exhausted sleeper's veins. Between
treatment and injection site. In small-print
In bed, in a hammock between trees, in the bath, on moss,
in cold lakes, our bodies pair by prepositions.
On the lips of the toddler smooshing pages with jam. In
the theatre of her hands. She tilts her head to the right,
mimics her father's imitative coos.
Throughout the primary school hallways when the bell
rings on a May scorcher as the shrieks of recessing kids
are at their peak.
At the public library beside the canal, on a table behind
rare-book stacks, volumes open, spread.
Between the pages of my great-uncle Eddie's Leaves of
Grass. In the handshake of his Bajan lover, Colin.
On the handles of my grandfather's paintbrushes:
accidental abstract expressionism.
In the cellar, inside the chest with mould-dusted leather
locking straps; "Man on the Moon" newspapers, a loaded
handgun, plastic-wrapped vintage pornography, rags sharp
Inside shelves installed in his dresser drawers, we found
the alphabetized complete works of Edgar Rice Burroughs,
Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey.
Toward Mont Royal's cross, the white spruce, or the fly on
the window at the Montreal General Hospital where my
father's eyes finally settled.
In Parc Jarry bleachers, hot dog in mouth as Bailey singles
Woods home. In the T-shirt's cherished mustard stain.
In Muzak accompanying the Zamboni's peculiar figures.
At Arena Robert Guertin, in locker rooms of broken sticks,
what might Guy Lafleur's poster eyes have seen?
On the court, hoops: in court, hoops.
Around the ditch where the sewer crew shovels through
effluent, hoping to find and close a valve.
Abaft the engine room, reeking of fish and fuel.
From the combine harvester's thousand-watt stereo, barley
Under the boardroom table of the princes of power, bless
their blue silk ties, there's gum. For all their financial
instruments, pick your prepositions; govern them by
In my mother's blueprints for Montreal trunks.
Over the copper pair, the glass fibre, between towers:
packets of everything. We like it.
Under the Cisco bridge, trolls creep.
In diodes emitting a radiant moving window of briefest
In the palimpsest of typewriter roller and plasma screen,
PINs for accounts of the poorest and richest.
Between rings in birch grain, inside axe and saw cuts,
under initialled bark.
Under the throat of the slaughtered calf, along the blade of
At the cathedral for her funeral, in liturgy and hymn,
In the LAV -- none of us wants to hear it -- when the RPG
renders acronyms disgusting.
@Cranium Central Station, a bat in the attic hangs itself
Stephen Brockwell's All Of Us Reticent, Here, Together feels like a clearing of the deck. Parents and grandparents and various other ghosts are ceremoniously debunked into their eternal beds amid the cathartic tumble. Brockwell is searching for a new kind of honesty and it is not an easy purchase, people get hurt, bruises form, seen and unseen.
It's difficult magic to reconcile your heart with your hopes and it is almost impossible not to remember expectations as responsibilities. Brockwell is swimming against some harsh and well established currents but his stroke is strong and true. It's always hard to be who we want when dealing with who we are gets in the way.
My fridge had more food than I needed.
Jane, I asked you to come to my house and cook with me:
onions, garlic, long beans, fish -- no fish!
It was never about the cooking --
you knew that --
it was our way of putting our lips on the same dish.
In the rain, face to face
at the market, we huddled by the fish tank,
watching the slow, sad carp,
gills pulsing, mouth opening, eyes wet, of course.
Stephen Brockwell is a disarming poet. In the past his wit and intelligent charm always made for smart, sharp poems worth reading. With All Of Us Reticent, Here, Together Brockwell has added a new level of emotional candor and intensity that is both jarring and exciting.
This sort of honesty, when honed by the articulate hands of an old pro like Brockwell makes for some compelling poetry and rewarding reading.
Today's book of poetry understands that Brockwell had some misgivings about All Of Us Reticent, Here, Together and it is easy to see why. When you put that much on the table the room turns quiet and all eyes focus on the gambler. Brockwell plays the winning hand and doesn't even crack a grin.
Biography Of Mistaken Identities
I was mistaken for Steve Martin at a bar in Montreal.
I was mistaken for someone Richard Simmons could love
by Richard Simmons on a flight to Los Angeles.
I was mistaken for Olympian Ken Read
but I've never needed skis to hurtle downhill.
I was mistaken for a gay man at Swizzles
and played it to my advantage at the slam.
I was such a flirt! Were they mistaken?
I am told I could be mistaken for Henry Rollins.
Soon my dog will mistake me for an old hound
on the porch, bark in my face, and tear my ears.
I hope to be mistaken for soil by seedling pines.
We had guest appearances at the Today's book of poetry offices this morning. We had just started our morning read when the doorbell rang. In walked Ayano Omota, Yuka Kashino and Ayaka Nishiwaki. I didn't recognize any of them at first but Ayaka had Pharoah Sanders at the end of her arm and I certainly knew who he was right away. They'd just tumbled out of a rusted old '56 Caddy short that was sitting in the laneway. I almost lost my mind.
But like all other guests Pharoah and the ladies had to take their turn reading a poem. Stephen Brockwell has never sounded better.
Today's book of poetry has been a big Stephen Brockwell fan for a long time and we believe that All Of Us Reticent, Here, Together is his best book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Brockwell cut his writing teeth in the ’80s in Montreal, appearing on French and English CBC Radio and in the anthologies Cross/cut: Contemporary English Quebec Poetry and The Insecurity of Art (both Véhicule Press, 1982). George Woodcock described Brockwell’s first book, The Wire in Fences, as having an “extraordinary range of empathies and perceptions.” Harold Bloom wrote that Brockwell’s second book, Cometology, “held rare and authentic promise.” Fruitfly Geographic won the Archibald Lampman award for best book of poetry in Ottawa in 2005. Brockwell currently operates a small IT consulting company from the 7th floor of the Chateau Laurier and lives in a house perpetually under construction.
“In All of Us Reticent, Here, Together, Stephen Brockwell tenders an unsettled confessional: the poet decentring himself to cast light on the shame of being human. Awkward, wry, acerbic, these poems nonetheless find intimacy in all the locations of culture.”—Soraya Peerbaye, author of Tell: Poems for a Girlhood
“Stephen Brockwell’s poetry, already luminous with intelligence and subtle musical energy, pulses with a new, raw, elegiac edge in his latest collection, All of Us Reticent, Here, Together. Ever curious, ever vigilant, Brockwell’s voice sorts through bruised truths and reverberant detail to deliver these poems of startling tenderness and honesty.”
—David O’Meara, author of A Pretty Sight
Reading at 17 Poets
Video: Megan Burns
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