Brenda Read-Brown: Like Love
Launch date: 7 th November, 2018.
BRENDA READ-BROWN worked for many years as an IT project manager. In 2001, she
gave up her high salary, company car and secure pension to be a full-time freelance writer
and poet. Winner of more than 30 slams, she has performed across the UK, in Texas and in
Denmark. She was selected as Gloucestershire Poet Laureate in 2012 and published her first
collection, Arbitrary edges, in 2013. Her one-act plays have won several awards, including
the UK-wide Geoffrey Whitworth prize. Brenda works with many groups of people, and she
says that helping others find their words gives her the greatest joy.
Brenda Read-Brown’s biographical notes struck a chord with me, as I also changed direction
after leaving the teaching profession. Then I read, ‘Endless thanks to The Son, The Daughter
and The Bloke’, and the sense of connection was confirmed. These are poems about family –
partners, children, elderly parents – but above all, about relationships ‘Like Love’. The
ambiguities of the title of the collection are worth considering. This subject matter might not
sound original, but it is distinguished by the poet’s perspective and by her original – and
sometimes witty – use of language and imagery. These poems achieve that rare feat of
working as well on the page as they would on the stage.
The opening poem, ‘Decay’, appears to be about a statue ‘eroded’ by ‘weather and bad
fortune’; detail is piled on detail until this twist at the end of the poem:
I turn away from the mirror, and remind myself,
It’s not all about you, Brenda
Here, the poet is revealed to be the subject of the poem – and at the same time both the
subject, and not the subject, of her own story. This is the first example of the shifts in
perspective which characterise these apparently autobiographical poems. They often highlight
the distance between expectations and real life, as in ‘The consequences of inadequate sex
education’, where the speaker complains:
The thrill that I expected
was of train that enters tunnel,
as in the film clichés.
She is not happy with the reality, which she describes in engineering terms ‘steel pistons’ and
a ‘cylinder’ before asking, ‘was this really/what it was all about?’
In ‘Selective memory’, she describes first love ‘learning the grace/ of skin strokes and
pleasure’ in a relationship she experienced ‘that summer I worked in a factory,/stitching
cardboard boxes’. Years later, when this boyfriend has died, the arrival of an Amazon
package triggers the memory:
Every time I see a cardboard box
I remember that summer and the woods,
and forget the lies.
‘Love poem’ explores the language of love poetry, and how it creates expectations which can
never be matched in the real world described in the poem ‘One in a million’.
God knows how
with such a throng
of special ones
and other halves,
I ended up,
against the odds,
When relationships disappoint, temptation comes calling – as the poet describes in ‘Paradise
Lost’. This poem, like several others in the collection, takes its title from a well-known poem
and then develops in an interesting and startling way. This Satan could have stepped straight
out of a Fay Weldon novel:
He’s a glamorous figure, Satan;
arrives at your back door in old blue jeans
and anyone’s hoodie, unassuming
as a plumber; but the edges of your eyes
see the ripple of dark wings,
and he waltzes round your tongue
with words of sacrifice and longing,
and you pity him as you might
pity prisoners of fame,
the gilded rich who hide in shadows,
behind bars of insecurity.
He has the power to fix things
and the polished tools of knowledge,
and he talks as he turns tricks,
magic sparking from his fingers;
his blowtorch eyes on you, just you.
You are naked, begging,
wanting everything he has,
wanting everything he sells,
You sign your name in lust and blood
on the blank sheets where he leads you,
and you never even think to ask his name.
But the creature who drives off
in the scruffy, scarred white van
is an angel of lost hope,
and he has spoiled you for any earth-shod man.
Equally impressive, is the other poem about temptation, ‘Late Harvest’; I was torn over
which to choose for the complete poem in the review. If you go on to read the collection, you
have that poem as a treat in store.
In the end, she settles for the real man ‘the sofa of him’ in the real world but not before
playing with the metaphor of life’s journey and comparing choosing a man to choosing a
suitcase in the poem ‘How to choose a man to travel with you’. The use of these metaphors
and the conceit is typical of the poet’s playful and entertaining use of language.
Marriage is followed by children and all too soon those children are teenagers, and then they
are leaving home and getting married themselves. When they marry, she says, ‘they will tread
carefully’ up the aisle ‘to avoid our footsteps’ – believing that for them it will be better –
though the poet knows that the romance v real life contrast will be repeated yet again. All too
soon., the poet is caring for her elderly mother and then mourning her death; the collection
ends with her reflecting on life in the final poems, one of which provides the collection with