I’ve been a big fan of James Brown’s poems for a long time. The first poem of his I read was ‘Loneliness’, in 2001. It’s probably still his most well known poem, all these years later. I wonder if James is a bit tired of it now, has made a real effort to leave it behind, the way Radiohead have left behind ‘Creep’ but a stubborn faction of people still want them to play it and wish they’d go back to their roots. Anyway, after I read it and Lemon, his second book, I became preoccupied with tracking down a copy of his first book, Go Round Power Please. It was out of print, but that eerie crowd of little pottery faces on the cover haunted me, and eventually I stumbled across a copy in a secondhand bookstore, and when I read that book, I knew that James’s poems would end up being permanent fixtures in my head. They were really the first poems I’d read that felt like a person talking to me – an endlessly interesting, questing person. I found the poems addictive. I wanted to write poems that had a similar warmth to them, poems that were good company, that felt like someone was opening a door to me rather than instructing me to squeeze in through a tiny window. (Some poems really do make me feel like that. There are so many poems in which I am still stuck, my top half inside, my legs waving helplessly outside.) I loved all of his subsequent books, and waited for them as I waited for new albums by favourite bands. In The Year of the Bicycle, I was elated that someone was writing poems about the agony of going uphill, the rush of going down the other side, the mechanical difficulties, falling off, and getting angry, as in ‘The Wicked‘:
On your bike you weave and spit
a throaty, viral gob over the windscreen
of an SUV that won’t give way.
There is no rest for the wicked in this world.
His poem ‘Severe Open Dislocation’ is the only poem I’ve come across that describes a mountain biking accident (it’s based on what happened to mountain-biker Nigel Page):
Luckily my trusty helmet saved my neck.
The only problem was
I needed one on my foot too,
as I had somehow completely
ripped my foot off my leg.
His latest book, Warm Auditorium, moved me so much that I kept foisting it on people. I sent it to a friend in London and gifted it to numerous others. I know for a fact that people now get sick of me going on about James Brown. Back in 2012, James came to the launch of my first book, which is when we properly said hello, over ten years after I’d first read ‘Loneliness’. Anyway, we got to talking a bit since then, and today in the driving rain we went for a bike ride around Miramar Peninsula. James was splattered in mud after biking the Tip Track (a track he’s written an incredible line-by-line account of in The Year of the Bicycle). Here’s the route we took (with water hydrants, or stops for crying). It was a good bike ride.