White Leaf Press, 2007 - £3.00 www.whiteleafpress.co.uk
We sat in the classroom and observed
The lorry on fire at the top of the road.
Stephen Brown grew up in Northern Ireland during the province’s troubled years, and the poems in Walking the Walls are full of things threatening to explode. There’s a sinister leather sports-bag, for example, and on an allotment, “It took the cabbages six months to slowly detonate.”
The pamphlet’s title sequence is about walking the walls of Derry on Christmas day, 2002, but
If it weren’t for the supermarkets and the floodlights
It could be the sixties or seventies through the flood.
The smoke rises at the same angle.
The past won’t vanish as quickly as optimistic politicians would like, and on the Creggan estate “resentment sits/ at hearths and kitchens like a fat wife.” Perhaps it is the experience of living through the Troubles that has given Stephen Brown his eye for the resonant detail, like the sight of a “child using his own arm as a machine gun”. There’s a strong visual imagination at work here, sometimes verging on the surrealistic, as in his poem about the Sun, which “springs from sprouting bushes/ indiscriminately molesting members of the public” and “licks the gaudy golden belt buckles/ on the waists of garish girls.”
Don’t read Stephen Brown if you want to wallow in a misery-memoir about Irish grimness. Do read him if you want to encounter a lively spirit who can use his experiences to reveal something of the oddity and excitement of life.