Village Of Stones Book Front Cover

Village of Stones – Selected Poetry of Brian Lee

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Brian Lee

Village of Stones is my second book of verse. It is a selection of poems written between 1985 and 2005 following my move to London. Most of the pieces are short but they show a variety of styles and subject matter and are always surprising. Well they still even surprise me sometimes and I wrote them!

I was giving a reading a while back and the MC came up to me and said “I'm going to be introducing you. What type of poetry do you write?” “All sorts really.” I replied. Undeterred he went on, “Do you write love poems?” “Yes, some of my poems are about love.” “So you're a romantic,” he says triumphantly, believing he'd pigeon-holed me. “No, I wouldn't say that.” I countered. “You mean you write love poetry but you're not a romantic.” “That's right.” I said. And that's how he introduced me. “This is Brian Lee. He writes love poems but he says he's not a romantic.” Yes, there are love poems in the book or rather, poems about love. There are also serious poems with a humorous twist, humorous pieces with a serious twist. There are poems about death, about nature, about life in the city.

There are also salutations and memorials to a couple of my favourite poets: Vasko Popa a Serbian poet of the last century whose work is a marriage of traditional folklore and modern surrealism; and Li Ho (aka Li He), a poet of Tang dynasty China, described as a demonic genius, While Songs for Gaia is very much of a piece, a whole which doesn't really stand being broken into chunks, each poem in Village of Stones stands for itself and is not related to any of the other pieces except maybe by recurring thematic obsessions and language games. These I will leave to the reader to spot and work out but please do not tell me about them; I have no interest in literary criticism and I'm not looking for a psychotherapist however much you may think I need one!

Some of the poems in this book are also on the CD of the same name

Paperback 80 pages

ISBN 978-0-9552178-1-4


1 review for Village of Stones – Selected Poetry of Brian Lee

  1. Rated 5 out of 5

    Ian Dieffenthaller

    Reviewed by: Ian Dieffenthaller

    Brian Lee’s “stones” are latter-day flints, honed and sharpened, purposefully wielded to whittle away at the mind. The resulting lines are compact but the poems themselves skip along, aided by enjambment and countless figures of repetition – but not rhyme. It is anaphora in the opening poem that strikes the reader (“come from the mountains…come from an island… come from everywhere…”), and again in the next but bolstered this time by listing. There is little punctuation and capitals rarely perform the function we ascribe to them in ordinary life: occasionally they signal an end-stopped line but their general placement seems to be in touch with the poet’s stream of consciousness.

    This thoroughly modernist approach to things imparts a restlessness to the whole collection – a conscious striving for the missing connexion that at last seems to manifest itself in the title poem when stone becomes life and life transformed enters a new world:

    upon this cloth of earth
    where earth has laid us
    where our words are spoken
    heard and understood

    when we are ready to begin again our journey
    to flow as liquid in the heat of her embrace,
    to evaporate and end all separation,
    to fuse again as plasma,
    core to core then slowly to condense somewhere,
    another job,
    another world

    Like his poems, Lee’s quest is not as unstructured as his array of technical devices might imply. There is a question and answer format in the early work, in poems such as “Where to come from” and “What would you like to hear?” and the journey builds on each successive answer. Come from everywhere so as to deflect hurtful words back at those who utter them. But look into your own mind to find yourself rather than in phone books, or supermarkets or other people’s descriptions.

    The book contains love poems and verses in memoriam and ventures into indigenous cultures in order to fulfil the restless spirit encountered in the opening poem. Often, there is a sense of eavesdropping on a private conversation or being caught up in a folk tale but always an insistence that what the reader is experiencing is a poem. Indeed, the author makes a point of offering something back to the reader in the form of the best poem he can write. In the affecting “I have sent you a poem” he has composed a poem about roots – imaginary animals in the land of his grandmother, about dreams – stars moving about and conversing – “like at a party” – and about everyday life – “standing/ on long train journeys / because there is nowhere to sit.” But we are aware before the final confirmation that

    It is a love poem I
    hope you like it

    Anything is possible in the village of the word. Lee appropriates the Hebrew expression tohu va bohu (unformed and unfilled) – used in Genesis 1:2 to describe the chaos before God said that there should be light – and in creating a pair of contemporary jazz musicians from the words, uses them as a means of delivering night out of day. As a modern version of God’s spirit hovering over water, jazz music rises like smoke out of the diminishing night.

    Lee’s surrealist bent is triggered by the ordinary, for instance the drunk on Kilburn Bridge, or the dinning of a television. And the ordinary is often punctuated by a single loaded image: in “a long limbed African woman” the subject drops her bag of groceries in hurrying through the pouring rain, her dreams of home only being reclaimed in the final refrain “oh mother, dear mother / don’t cry we still love you.” If there are echoes of William Carlos Williams’s plums in “I have sent you a poem,” I perceived D H Lawrence’s Self Pity in “fingers of cloud” which apparently about everyday loss, turns on the final line, “revenge is breeding,” confirming for the reader that the poem is much more than a landscape sketch. The poem “Photographing the moon” has seven lines beginning:

    I tried to photograph the moon
    but the picture came out blurred
    maybe the moon moved

    all of which works fine in the context of a moon poem. But sentiment turns on the slightly unexpected central line “or maybe the earth turned.” The poet is unable to say how beautiful the moon is finally, not because of the moonswerve but because of some other earthly consideration about which we are left to ponder.

    These little poems put me in mind of the Imagists of the early twentieth century and via T. S. Eliot to the West Indian Kamau Brathwaite. Their impressionistic quality might equally lead readers to find connexions with Turner’s eighteenth century sketches or the impressions of the late nineteenth century French painters. In the same way that this disparate band of artists came to called the painters of modern life, so it is that Lee paints contemporary society – deftly and with measured words. The collection gives the impression of journeying but not in the epic sense of many “travelling” poets. In the poem “travellin’” for instance the narrator asks us to pack our alembic and our four winds, “we’re going for a ride.” The alchemy alluded to in the flask is in searching out the little details in life and making them into memory.

    This type of searching asks us to envisage a constant rebalancing of things and places, languages and cultures in a world village. The Village of Stones is ultimately a transformative place in the mind of a poet whose bearing of poems as gifts is much to be welcomed in such straitened times.

    6 March 2009.

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