Four poems from ‘Spoils’ by James Brookes



Below are four poems from the sequence ‘Antigeorgics’ by James Brookes, which appears in his second full collection, Spoils, published this month by Offord Road Books. Spoils is being launched at The Crown Tavern, Clerkenwell, on Tuesday 20th February: all are welcome. Event details here.



    Tapsel Gate, Jevington


Pivot the year;           the cold revolving door
half-sticking in the frost. The weather lifts 
over the South Downs, bearing as before
its poison pen love letters, stalker’s gifts,
and moves inland to numb the limbs of Horsham.
Sussex never rowed its own coracle;
it might have once careered an essedum.
No henge at equinox its oracle,
just grand and petulant intransigence.
Patriotism? No. I don’t lack the lingo –
no matter what I might offer in my defence 
these jangled syllables stay the chains of jingo –
but can I say aloud that my sort spoiled the world
without that sly inflection of self-pity
I cannot shift for money or for love?
The Sussex motto is we wunt be druv.


    Bog Asphodel


Sun up, first Sunday after Candlemas. I took the corpse road
through first frost, vision prickled with lens flare as though I’d taken
a blow to the head or been dead drunk and only just come to.
I couldn’t pick out the orange flowers of narthecium
ossifragum, that’ll brittle the bones of the yearling lambs,
the Lancashire asphodel, that which ought not to do down here.
I well know the flare of a corpse candle to be no such thing,
a barn owl’s bioluminescent wingtip, its barrel roll
over the hollow of an elm crippled by honey fungus
smearing my path with the enzyme ‘luciferase’.
To Warnham’s living lychgate, then, its arch of thickening yew
like the new year: not death but a vital and lustrous darkness.
On the way back, a hare shone in the narthex of its form.




A riven tree stump, its growth rings slick with rain:
the guilloche patterns cut by a rose-engine lathe
and bound in translucent enamel like Fabergé's eggs.
In temples and fanes like this, in sapwood, in heartwood,
the deathwatch beetle hides its recusancy,
its precious doomsday devices.
The hairs on its legs and back look fire-gilded,
an amalgam of gold and volatised mercury
adhering to each tiny filament.
Its ticking is not like a watch but syncopated;
the misfiring of that two-stroke jalopy moped
Giles scudded across the fields, Warnham to Slinfold
with me, riding pillion deadweight on the mudguard
clenched and crooked-of-limb, sincerely at prayer,
my heartbeat an echo of tell-tale vacancy
that brings to mind the deathwatch beetle’s news: 
the consecrated host is in its pyx;
the outboard motor idles on the Styx.




Sussex in excelsis,
               in midwinter blazon:
deciduous bronze;
               patinated evergreen;
fire-grimed iron;
               colostrum-hued Horsham stone.
The newborn soils muslin
               with rich meconium,
dark as wrapped silage
               but almost without perfume.
The roundheaded rampion
               biding beneath loam.
Rejoice then, my martlet,
               your county calls you home.
Rejoice then, my county,
               your failure calls you home.


James Brookes

About James Brookes

James Brookes was born in 1986 and grew up in Sussex. He received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2009. His first collection, 'Sins of the Leopard' (Salt, 2012), was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the English Association’s Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. A pamphlet, 'Nine Worthies', was published by Eyewear last year. His second collection, 'Spoils', will be published in February 2018 by Offord Road Press. Since 2011 he has worked as a schoolmaster, teaching History and latterly English, most recently at Haileybury & Imperial Service College. He is married to the poet and critic Charlotte Newman.