Crowd Sensations

Judy Brown
Publication Date: 
Thursday, February 4, 2016
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Shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Second Collection Prize

‘Judy Brown’s deliciously tactile Crowd Sensations ... quietly twists concrete subjects from a cricket umpire to a cockroach into unsettling new shapes, a “mutable alphabet”.’ – The Telegraph


Poet Judy Brown’s new collection, Crowd Sensations, is a worthy follow-up to her Forward-prize nominated debut, Loudness. Brown is a poet of dazzling contrasts, of thoughtful paradox, intimate confidences and precise evocations. Her titles and first lines both draw you right into a poem and then quite often surprise you with a narrative that you hadn’t quite expected. ‘The Things She Burned Last Year’ references a past both remote and near, like multiple reflections seen in a mirror. Brown is a poet of profoundly unsettling domesticity as in ‘The Dehumidifier’, which unravels the metaphysics of damp and ‘This is Not a Garden’, which is a cool summation of a failed marriage. We frequently imagine an uncomfortable intimacy: ‘Poem in Which I am Not Short-sighted’, or are given a scary anecdote like: ‘The Post Box in the Wall’. There are serious poems that lure you with humorous titles: ‘Poem in the Voice of a Dead Cockroach’.

A key theme is the contrast between living in the city and the countryside. The author has lived in London and Hong Kong and has recently had residencies with the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere and at the Gladstone Library in North Wales. Her spin on landscape is original and characteristically unnerving: ‘Elterwater Rain’, ‘Dove Cottage Ferns’ and ‘One of the Summer People’ reflect on nature and the place of the traveller, the incomer, the tourist. ‘Green Man’ also imagines a historical/mythical character and has him walk through a busy city street, shunned and unrecognized. Her memories often focus and celebrate pivotal moments of change: the move from city to country, the release from a doomed relationship, and the discovery of a new street or landscape. A fascination with artistic technique also features in a number of poems: ‘After the Discovery of Linear Perspective’, ‘On a Woodblock Prepared for an Engraving’.  

Such is the author’s skill that these poems can often be said to be about more than one thing at a time. They unfold themselves upon the page in concise forms and with considerable flair. Judy Brown’s Crowd Sensations will be a joyful discovery for the intelligent reader.


Review by Elizabeth Edwards, Planet

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Both the title and epigraphs of Judy Brown's Crowd Sensations invoke the unpredictable collective energies of public spaces, glancing encounters and long-standing relationships. The opening poem, 'After the Discovery of Linear Perspective', describes 'new space' concealed and revealed, objects observed up close, lines followed to their vanishing points. These concepts branch out through the collection via themes of travel, illness, memory, busy urban or quieter domestic scenes, in language filled with movement. Brown's title also describes these poems' affinity for experiences at the limits, as in the overwhelming sights and smells of Hong Kong, where unfamiliar things ('I could make no sense of it') layer up in uneasy half-rhymes. In other poems a poisoned rat perches, rotting on a sofa; we glimpse the moon landings from a child's perspective; hear a dehumidifier working endlessly on tropical air. But drawing out strangeness is a theme throughout this collection regardless of setting. Poems on B&B rooms become inventories of the surreal: the colours and textures of kitsch interiors morph into mouths and tongues, a concrete-filled view becomes 'like two beasts severed and sewn'. A poem about flat-pack furniture becomes a celebration of slow-grown 'old wood', witness to 'drought, flood, lightning's crash and burn'. Brown turns that strangeness on the body, too, in poems exploring short-sightedness, or how the heart might stop and start at medical will. Poems on cancer present the body as an unfathomable map of points where 'knowledge is unloaded; things start to hear'.

But these are in the end deeply sociable poems, bound by the importance of connection and community, in vivid, often thrilling imagery.

Review by Dorothy Yamamoto, Artemis poetry

Monday, May 15, 2017

A dead cockroach, a dehumidifier, a poisoned rat - there doesn't seem to be anything that may not inspire Judy Brown to one of her richly coloured, adroitly metaphysical mediations. Crowd Sensations bursts at the seams with brilliant, wayward imagery that is her hallmark, from the rat's "coffee-bean spoor" (A Trapped Rat Finds Another Kind of Freedom) to the couple's hands locked in "prisonish happiness // like dogs disturbed at mating, who stuck" (Memorial). Each poem, in one way or another, shows us how language can newly interrogate the familiar world. Some themes, or roles, recur: such as the poet as a roving, solitary reporter on the sheer weirdness of overnighting in B&B's (the various Songs from West Cumbria, Was This Review Helpful to You?). Although I enjoyed the men "hooting like elephant seals" in Carlisle, and the owners "talking business in their sagging tracksuits" in another godforsaken hangout, I found these poems less fully dimensional than those in which bravura images are linked to a more lasting, less avoidable experience. In Unsafe Harbour, for instance, comparison of a lump found in a woman's breast with a would-be "isolate city with sealed gates" gains power from its close alignment of details from both worlds: "Neck, armpit, and groin - these are places / of grain and pulse - basin and channel where / ships pause to spill their cargoes, where hawsers / tear into their moorings". Here, words like 'grain', 'pulse', 'spill' and 'tear' make the bodily peril arrestingly real. I have to say that, after several readings, some poems (e.g. The Third Umpire) still puzzle me, and others seem to fall away a bit with their final line (Skymap Says We're Nowhere Near Home) - nevertheless, I'll keep going back to this collection to sample its profligate brilliance and truly enviable inventiveness. 

Review By Ed Reiss, The North

Monday, August 1, 2016

A poem is neither a junkshop nor scrapyard: you can't dump any random object there, cross your fingers and hope it'll work. But when a poem incorporates something unusual, not as bric-à-brac or ornament, but as an integral part of its being, that is one sign of good writing. So, on the first couple of pages of Judy Brown's second collection, it's intriguing to find diptychs, Dralon reclines and the Gulf of Mexico. The presence of objects so disparate and under-represented in contemporary poetry, yet precisely effective in context, gives promise of surprise and quality to come. And reading on, we encounter calamari, a beige-tiled fireplace, elephant seals, bus drivers, macramé, dog-bowls and a telesales job.

Brown's objects are animate with energy: 'Stairs/ strut and coil like tempters'; 'trams spark and rattle'; town rain 'splits and skids'; life bides its moment 'to sprint and scatter'. The language works by exactness, 'the iPod snicking in its dock', that verb 'snicking' giving a close fit and sharp click.

Accuracy is all the more essential when poems probe emotional extremes and are 'trolled by horrors'.Precision wards off exaggeration and flailing. Consider the rat which has 'nibbled/the pink sachets of pearlescent freshbait'. 'Freshbait' is verbally fresh in that it is not in the OED and 'pearlescent' evokes a glossy aspirational world of glassware, jewellery and lipstick. The word 'sachets' is redolent of perfume, potpourri or cosmetics freebies, which adds a frisson to the bag of poison. And 'nibbled' conveys exactly the right sense of biting tentatively, or feeding repeatedly with small bites, whilst also intimating erotic play, later fleshed out by the phrases 'just you and me' and 'a nice touch'. The erotic subtext tips into disgust with the 'rat's coffee-bean spoor'. Then the connotations of 'bump off', 'by-blow', 'mummify' and 'queasy stomach' call up murder, pregnancy, bastardy and abortion. The central tableau presents the rat's corpse on the sofa('(O, Jesus/the sofa)') where that 'O, Jesus'(cradled in parentheses) is no empty oath, but conjures a gotesque counter-Nativity crib-scene, with the dead rat as changeling Christ-child. The details are neat: Darren’s ‘latex-gloves’ speak of both contact and distance and maybe subliminally suggest ‘late’, ‘ex’ and ‘love’ attaching to this rat or some other love-rat.

Brown is idiosyncratic and archetypal at the same time. In ‘Poem in the Voice of a Dead Cockroach’, the cockroach, dead ‘in the guest bathroom/of a Spanish-style villa at Chung Hom Kok’ becomes a universal soldier, whose last testament ranges(menacingly, comically) from First World War trenches, back to Spartans holding the pass, then Vikings, and forward into some evolutionary future, ‘the longest haul’. Its register or discourse-category swings from a colloquial ‘sod-all’ to the legalese of ‘albeit that’.

These poems are alert to threat, especially physiological threats, human beings as bodies bound to go kaput. Brown writers searchingly of physical malfunction: hypothermia,myopia, chemotherapy, swollen ankles, wrenched muscle, lesions, heart op. So the heart of an octogenarian is a 'fine machine...big and hidden, rumbling in its housing,' like a ship's engine. Conversely, in the dehumidifier, the 'inhuman lungfuls pass across/your plastc gills' and the Japanese power station is not damaged or contaminated but 'wounded'.

A poem, Brown has written, can be 'a vector of metamorphosis, a continuum along which object and image mimic each other and merge'. Something of this is visible in 'Unsafe Harbour':

Neck, armpit and groin- these are places
of grain and pulse-basin and channel where
ships pause to spill their cargos[...]

As 'groin' turns to 'grain', the word 'pulse' becomes a node, suggesting both the edible seeds of leguminous plants('nuts and pulses') and the throbbing bodily arteries('the Mexican bean pulse of your wrist'). Here, 'basin' primarily denotes a tidal dock or harbour whilst it also extends the imagery and kitchen and cooking. The verb 'spill' captures the Heaneyesque sluice-rush of grain tumbling into a hopper and may also recall its medical anagram 'pills'.

There is a king of poem which spins and rotates as a whole by transfiguring its addressee and therefore its putative purpose as a speech-act. Such a poem changes in changing the apparent purpose towards which it directs its mimicry. This happens, I think, in the first poem of the collection, one of those poems where the title runs into the first line: 'After the Discovery of Linear Perspective///You gave us new places to hide.' Who or what is this 'You'? The poem meaning alters according to our understanding of its opening word. If 'You' is God, then He could be giving us new places to hide, perhaps as an act of mercy, as Adam and Eve hid after their Fall. If 'You' is the devil, he could be doing it 'just for the hell.' And if 'You' is the artist or technician, the effect would be playful, more like a game of hide-and-seek. As the verse unfolds all these interpretations and others drop in and out of the play, like a detective story with several plausible suspects. Each possible solution is satisfying in some juicy respect but none is wholly satisfactory. As Helen Vendler might say, a definitive solution is what the poem exists to frustrate. The end result is not bewilderment but wilder exuberance at the opening of tradition and imagination: 'Let's inhale its new space, shout/merely to gather echoes, make gestures that astonish us.

Brown loads many meanings into one word. 'By the fells' long exposures I pass unrecorded.' What are these 'exposures'? In that single word are multiple exposures, from the worlds of (time-lapse) photography, mountaineering and commerce; hints of being unsheltered, abandoned, unmasked; notions of publicity, exhibition, commitment, risk. Likewise, Brown can be mundane and weird all in the same line: 'See how I cook my baked potatoes in the microwave!'. Her poems exist with us, but unlike us, as 'foreground flicker/in this place of deep time', in both the now and another zone where 'you'd notice glass making its slow travel to thicken/the foot of the pane'

Brown's language sounds 'factory-fresh', 'so fresh it's just come on the market'. She chucks in a few 'thugweed' or  vulgarisms to strong effect. Her poems know how to swoop across a stanza break from sacred to profane, 'to stand at the altar//up the duff in stretch lace, bring up child after child,/ giving the finger to time with every hard breech/birth'.

Why the title Crowd Sensations? The word 'sensations' covers the gamut of experience from the normal, everyday operation of the senses; through mental feeling or apprehension; to extraordinary, startling excitement, as in sensational news. The 'Crowd' in the title refers to the contrast between sociability(often here associated with Hong Kong) and solitude(Cumbria). More specifically, poems are set in Sheung Wan, off the A591, in sundry b&bs, on Queen's Road East, Wan Chai, in the neon blaze of the Cup Noodle Building. None of this, Brown says, is exotic. The dichotomy of Self and Others is explored through images from Canetti's Crowds and Power. So a poem which has the word 'sand' in every stanza may call to mind crowds, although the force of the poem has more to do with individual lines such as 'I made a mood board for my sky-blowing wedding'.

Throughout, Judy Brown combines the accurate observation of an Elizabeth Bishop with the energy and estrangement of Plath; along with something of Peter Redgrove's plenitude and refinement of metaphor. These are serious poems which explore love and loss, solitude and society, vulnerability and violence, through language which fizzes with jumpy excitement, 'fresh with the sting and scent of phoenix'. These poems are intense and inventive, full of wit and joie de vivre. Shaped by something transcendental, they are grounded in the technical reality of the drill bit, Medium Density Fibreboard, blockboard, claw-hammer and thermostat. In the literary critical sense, they are 'metaphysical' in their wit, complexity and use of elaborate, intricate schemes of imagery to express ideas and emotional states. And they may also be metaphysical in the sense of Fine Art, using (like Chirico) strange perspectives, bizarre images and incongruous juxtaposition to create mysterious, dream-like effects.

In the opening poem, the protagonist or speaker misses the warmth of the maidens and saints. Another 'I' wants 'to be warm flesh today' and in the collection's final line the I wants 'the warmth on the other side of the wall'. But the collection as a whole is warm and affectionate, with moving poems for father, brother and friends. Its language is a 'volatile pool' or 'blistering cocktail' which moves 'to simmer, to hard boil, to absolute cauldron.' And yet it is also cool: 'cool and troubling', 'supercool and slow'. The seduces us with its 'cool, now irreversible, moves', on the page, in the heart, 'under the cool eyes of your tropical fish'. Poetry this beautiful does that.

Ed Reiss lives and works in Bradford. His book of poetry, Your Sort, was published by smith|doorstop in 2011.

Review by Rob A Mackenzie, Magma

Monday, August 1, 2016

Judy Brown also presents worlds in collision, the surreal and real fusing until both preside equally over a poem’s ‘truth’, although her style is very different from Lisa Matthews’. The back cover of Crowd Sensations says that “a central theme is the contrast between the city and the countryside” and, although that is a feature of some poems, it is a reductive way to examine a collection of such complexity. The poems are complex, not obscure, and repay close attention and rereading. ‘The Astronauts’ begins with the intriguing “Each one of us was a firstborn”, juxtaposing stars (“holes in some sky”) with a baby’s room “hung with the low fruit of mobiles.” Everyone sits glued to their televisions watching the first moon landing, “the show: / our stumbles in big shoes” like toddlers trying on parents’ footwear:

The nursery light left on over the blue planet,
we fell home, boxed and bouncing in titanium,
re-entry just a sizzle in the Gulf of Mexico.

In today’s world of ubiquitous reality TV, this reflection on sixties space travel finds fresh poignancy in the line, “But the real action was back in the living room.”

Brown is adept at finding fresh insight. ‘The Things She Burned That Year’ posits a familiar scene of a woman burning memories in a fire, but it is pages of her diary she offers to the flames, including “her past and part of her future.” The description is active and incendiary:

All afternoon it read itself to the blaze,
settled down at dusk to a soft grey bed.
She was watching someone she knew grow old.

Even in the few less interesting poems, the writing was so good that I never felt bored. Brown enlivens scenes with unexpected imagery and, in a strong poem like ‘The Street of the Dried Seafood Shops’, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, dead fish come alive, not literally but in the mind’s eye:

I stumble past the fronds of calamari,
frozen mid-Mexican wave, eye cockled sheets of

Trams spark and rattle under their tense electrics dusting the piled kilos of brown mussels, complex

as rucksacks with their laces and straps…

Brown’s diction is chosen with a keen ear. In the passage above there are obvious examples of well-judged alliteration and assonance, and a more complex vowel and consonant pattern connecting ‘tense electrics’, ‘piled kilos’, ‘mussels’, ‘complex’ ‘rucksacks’ and ‘straps.’ Every word is considered and the result is not just a revelation of technical skill but an enjoyable sonic feast even for readers who aren’t intent on unearthing the mechanics.

Ambition underlies many poems, a refusal to settle for straightforward narrative. ‘One of the Summer People’ begins with “It’s hard to believe I am mere foreground flicker / in this place of deep time.” In the wrong hands, this could become portentous, but Brown is equal to the challenge the opening sets up:

Ice bites the lake margins and falls back. Swans
                                                               hatch, die,
No instrument is tuned to an interval of less than
                                                               a decade.

Brown maintains control and also manages to surprise with every twist and turn. “See how I cook my baked potatoes in the microwave!” I was not expecting to see a baked potato in this poem, even one with metaphysics at its core. 

Review By Andrew Neilson, The Poetry Review

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Judy Brown's second collection, Crowd Sensations, is a very different proposition from Sampson's The Catch. This is an exuberant, exspansive poetry, hungry for subject matter that will be enveloped in the poet's sideways look at the world and her bold voice. Something of this exuberance can be seen in the opening poem, 'After the Discovery of Linear Perspective', particularly in the exclamation within this passage:

'Yet I miss their warmth: the maidens and saints twisted to press at the picture plane, all breathy frottage, and damp like flowers under glass.

Come, technician, let us brush past the samey glamours of Joseph

and Mary. Christ, there is so much gorgeous air explaining itself in the back of your painting! Let's inhale its new space, shout merely to gather echoes, make gestures that astonish us.'

Brown specialises in grabbing readerly attention with her first lines and her buttonholing strategies are often delightful. Here are just a few to evidence the verve with which she strikes out onto the page:

'Whole seas had their brine boiled off

to fill this sweating mile with desiccated stuff.' 

('The Street of the Dried Seafood Shops, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong')

'Just about now they are stopping my father's heart.'

('Just About Now')

'First: surely myopia is a priestly calling, 

where the world falls short in long isinglass halls.'

('Poem in Which I Am Not Shortsighted')

'As the hygienist scrimshaws round my gum

I stretch my small mouth wide as horror.'

('We Prayed for a Man Without a Beard')

There is seldom any delay in getting down to business, and while the poems almost always unwind in peculiar directions, those openings still function as executive summaries of each poem's prospectus.

There seems to be very little that Brown won't dare to attempt and she is particularly good at playing the ventriloquist. See, for example, 'The Unbeliever speaks to God', or 'Poem in the Voice of a Dead Cockroach' (there is something of the Ronseal advert about the titles: they do exactly what it says on the tin). In the latter poem, her deceased narrator is found "backflipped; dead afloat / in my long-boat carapace, six legs plaited / into caramel at the thorax". This does not of course stop Brown wresting eighteen lines out of him.

She is also good at writing the personal in unexpected ways. 'This Is Not a Garden' explores a garden, or a yard (the narrator is undecided), and in doing so explores in reality a failed marriage:

'A man made this garden for me, whether

I liked it or not. After I had gone, he let it

go wild, to armoured holly and hawthorn, 

the small beer of thugweeds, but in time

it will settle, a wiry daisy meadow, well-fenced.'

If there is a problem at all with Brown's eclectic, bouncy approach (not for nothing was her debut titles Loudness), then it probably has something to do with the reader's stamina for a whole collection of these poems. Stylistically, there is very little variation from the loose blank pentameter and while the poems often share locations (Hong Kong and Cumbria feature in several, in the latter case due to Brown's recent stint as Poet-in-Residence at Grasmere), it is not always clear what is bringing them together as a unified collection. The poems also pay little regard to the old workshop adage 'show don't tell' and indeed, it is in their loquacious telling that much of her talent appears to lie. Whether that causes concern, of course, is a matter for the individual reader. What you cannot fault is the sheer energy with which Brown tackles her world.


Review by Ashley Owen, New Welsh Review

Friday, April 1, 2016

Crowd Sensations, Judy Brown’s second full-length poetry collection, is far quieter and more probing than perhaps its title implies. Though the reader is thoroughly enmeshed in sensory details here, these poems have a calm at their centre – a place in which to stand and drink in one’s sometimes hectic surroundings. Brown achieves this by instilling her work with a constant spatial awareness. The collection’s first poem, ‘After the Discovery of Linear Perspective’ sets the tone: ‘We all / toe the lines, the vanishing points, the black and white ostentation of floors.’ Every poem following after is in some way a further exploration of space, and the reader becomes hyper-aware of landscapes pressing in or falling away.

One of the central themes is the contrast between urban and rural spaces. Brown takes us to Hong Kong fish markets, to Cumbrian hostels, and to the countryside of north Wales – but more than that, she gives us the in-between, the limbo of travel between one space and another. In ‘Skymap Says We’re Nowhere Near Home’, the narrator confesses to using the plane’s in-flight entertainment system only to watch her own progress: ‘This kind of travel is the loneliest of procedures: / solo-piloting a pale track above computer graphic / continents.’ Descriptions of fellow flyers like the blind-folded man with ‘ears cupped to rattling Springsteen’ or the nearby person watching a film are contrasted with the narrator’s lonely vigil, her book, her single plastic-wrapped meal. The poem’s last line encapsulates the alone-in-a-crowded room feel of much of the collection: ‘pray for us, seat-stuck, each in our private flight.’

For Brown, travel is a temporal exercise as well as a spatial one, and this often creates an almost claustrophobic awareness of time passing. In ‘Just About Now’, the narrator discusses her father’s heart surgery happening while she is elsewhere, time sliding differently between them. ‘The Things She Burned That Year’ sees the page-by-page destruction of a diary, the slow erasure of past and future: ‘She was watching someone she knew grow old.’ So many of the poems confront the reader with mortality – with death remembered, or imagined, or steadily approaching. This is perhaps most fully realised in ‘Coal’, where a coalman’s daughter has already lost two husbands to the trade; the coalman’s own most likely end is clear, but the narrator wishes him luck anyway. The reckoning of time in Crowd Sensations is like watching an hourglass – the narrator is always fully engaged, experiencing whatever moments she’s describing, but also outside of the moments, unhurried.

What Judy Brown achieves in her observations of space and time is a Venutti-like translation of events – through subtle shifts in perspective, she manages to defamiliarise everyday objects and experiences while simultaneously drawing the reader into previously foreign territory. ‘The Astronauts’ offers a new look at the moon landing in which Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong actually miss out on the event: ‘We were the first to come close to the moon... But the real action was back in the living room: / you, poised in your Dralon recliners; the show: / us in our big shoes.’ ‘Room 204 (Double for Single Use)’ uses the chance placement of mirrors in a hotel room to alienate the narrator from her own body, and in ‘Corner Shop’, a regular neighbourhood haunt is suddenly rendered unfamiliar by violence. Brown eulogises rats, contemplates tumours, gives voice to cockroaches, and at every turn shows us something that is not as we thought. In the end, however, she offers the perspective that the unknown need not be threatening. The collection’s final entry, ‘Praise Poem for the Urbanites’, takes comfort in a city full of strangers: ‘I want this,’ she says, ‘the shift of skin’s anonymous touch, / the warmth on the other side of the wall.’ Ultimately, Crowd Sensations is a careful probing of the distance between the Self and the Other.

Ashley Owen is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. 

Review by Jazmine Linklater, Cuckoo Review

Monday, March 21, 2016

Judy Brown’s new collection, Crowd Sensations (a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Spring 2016), opens with all the fascinations that the book is filled with. Instances, objects and colour are carefully peeled back and looked through towards other ideas, often building to breath-taking surprises. ‘After the Discovery of Linear Perspective’ is one of a number of poems to centre on traditional artistic technique, tactfully weaving an honest opinion of that ground-breaking alteration in image-making:

 ‘Yet I miss their warmth: the maidens and saints twisted to press

At the picture plane, all breathy frottage, and damp like flowers under glass.’

These investigations into classic Fine Art methods are exquisite works. Later in the collection, ‘On a Woodblock Prepared for Engraving’ describes the texture of the wood as having ‘an almost oily smoothness, like something lifted / from the body, the silkiness of polished bone.’ The piece opens out onto its dual scene as the character crafts her print: ‘She always thinks of this as drawing, / burying light in the wood’s claustrophobic density’. The narrative folds and unfolds to its wintry climax:

 ‘Let the puddings boil dry in their baby clothes.

Leave the tinsel coiled in snaky hibernation.

There is no need to invite anyone here.’

The poems of Crowd Sensations at first appear gentle and calm. But they are begging for further examination; they need time and quiet to fully blossom into their dual meanings. They seem to have loose threads that Brown plucks out at will, causing a cascade of other ideas or images – to go tumbling across the poem.

The wealth of subject matter in the collection can, at first, lead it to feel somewhat disjointed. On closer reading, however, we encounter succinct themes within the work as a whole, playing between one page and the next: the countryside; the city; the passing of time; the rain; relationships, and always an assured inquiry beyond what’s present of the world, simmering just below the surface.

Brown’s residency in Grasmere shines nowhere brighter than in ‘One of the Summer People’. She brushes knowingly against the Romantic Sublime; that vast terror of the beauty and infinity of the Lake District:

‘Ice bites the lake margins and falls back. Swans hatch, die.

No instrument is tuned to an interval of less than a decade.’

Yet the poet remains stuck to her own time – firmly rooted in the contemporary present, unnoticed by the impersonal perpetuity of existence.

‘You’d notice glass making its slow travel to thicken

The foot of the pane. It’s no pretence: I’m blurred.

By the fells’ long exposures I pass unrecorded. Always’

The final poem in the collection calls for a return to the city and its masses, where ‘lights twitch in the air’, echoing the uncomfortable feeling of separation so present throughout. This longing to be submerged in the immediate, the claustrophobic, is a frank ending to Brown’s explorations and a fitting finale for Crowd Sensations and its knowing investigations.

I’d take it back: life as a farmed salmon,

oily with antibiotics and omega 3, abraded fins

wafting in over-cooked water. Or, the press

of bodies in our tankful of harvestable muscle.

I want this: the shift of skin’s anonymous touch,

the warmth on the other side of the wall.’


Jazmine Linklater is a Reviewer in Residence at InPress Books.

Reviewers in Residence is a Cuckoo Young Writers programme, which allows young critics to develop an in-depth relationship with a venue or art form, and take part in exclusively tailored writing masterclasses.

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