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Judy Brown
Publication Date: 
Thursday, October 6, 2022
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Read Judy's poem ‘Greenery’ on the National Poetry Day website


Lairs brings together something primal and secret – the lair as haven for a wild or feral animal – with the poem framed as a mathematical equation. In these terms, the ‘lair’ is a kind of nest, a beautiful accumulation of dense detail. 

The tension between order and disorder in these poems is informed by mathematics after Judy Brown’s residency at Exeter University’s Institute of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. There she was inspired by specialists in uncertainty quantification, a branch of mathematics that seeks to estimate the uncertainty on model predictions. 

The poems are introspective, by turns analytical, fearful and mocking in their response to the systems shaping an altered world. The use of language is innovative, while maintaining moments of vulnerability and moving self-awareness. In these exquisite poems, the lair is both the community at large and a dark and intricate interior space where something wild still survives. 

Lairs follows on from Judy’s previous two collections, PBS-recommended Crowd Sensations (2016), which was shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Prize and Loudness (2011) was shortlisted for the Forward and Fenton Aldeburgh first collection prizes. 


”Sometimes narky, sometimes tender and afraid, each poem offers up its own shock of uneasy wonder. Judy Brown troubles the edges of certainty in poems that greet us with a glittering strangeness. This is a thrilling and compulsive collection.“  – Kathryn Simmonds


Watch the full online launch of ‘Lairs’:



Review by Kate Noakes, London Grip

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Lairs, Judy Brown’s third collection, starts with a couple of unsettling poems. “Postmonkey” tells of an experiment monkey sent into far space until it is too old to be useful and is flushed from the cargo hold, while “Settings” uses the inventive image of a tick in place of a navel piercing. And the disturbance continues with “Fish. Oh. Fish” which is a cry against the hideousness of corporate work where a junior lawyer, the ‘corporate fish’ is short of billable hours and works far into the night under the gaze of ‘a deep anglerfish clocking the hours’.

Brown is good on writing about work and its inequities as with the presenteeism with the “Fish” and the ‘Fruit for Offices’ which are available to clients, but not staff. This latter poem interestingly written from the viewpoint of the industrially produced fruit.

“Cravings for Pure Sugar” explains ‘the need to eat rhubarb jam/ off a blunt spoon’ and deploys another of Brown’s clever similes:

     Soon the pain from family bereavements
     hung in the air like fish cooked earlier in the week.

The imagistic links that I spotted between these and poems like “The Coelacanth” and “Room Service Menu” can be no accident. This is a pleasingly ordered collection.

Brown is good too with surprising images. Who else might have thought of a poem, ostensibly about cheese, ending by asking the reader to consider ‘the store of teeth a shark is born with’ (“The Larder”) or juxtaposing ‘a chimera […] idling/ by a mirror pool, calm as a self-driving car’ (“The Royal Forests”)?

Part One – Lairs and Cages gives way to the collection’s second section – Curtilage, which is focussed on property. Again, we are in the company of Brown’s wonderful images. “Sea-Wan”’ blends food into her description of a sea-scape where ‘The sky itself has cohesion like a pale blue cheese’; and later on there is mention of a ‘tomato juice sunset.’ The fast-growing city is where

     Through the river-soaked glass of the new station
     we can measure the torturer’s bamboo as it grows
     into a friable body
                                                 [“The Property Market, From Platform 1, Blackfriars Station”]

And in “The Property Market, The Islander” we learn of ‘a confection of lies/ about bees as big as boiled eggs’ and are told how ‘Whitebait straighten, re-silver and swim off your plate’.

Brown’s residency at Exeter University’s Institute of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence informs much of Part Three – Apertures where she learns to frame questions about maths and her view point changes accordingly, so that a doe’s body is thought of as ‘preposterous geometry’ (“Ways to Describe Motion”). Her enquiries are straightforwardly literal in “Some Security Questions” but they elicit bizarrely original responses. Data gathering and measurement figure in many of these poems, along with interesting writing about the (often fractured) body such as “Steeped” (which deals with pregnancy), “The Baby Tooth” (about the pandemic) and “Winter a dropped stitch” (which is on the menopause).

Brown has written a sumptuous book which is concerned with the breaking world. It is packed with surprises to nourish this jaded reader’s eyes and I urge you to dive in and luxuriate in it all. I shall be doing so again, often.

Review by Caroline Bracken, Nation Cymru

Monday, February 6, 2023

The first line of a poem carries a lot of weight, it must get to the point, invite the reader in to the poem and want to continue reading, use language in a way that is unique but not so obscure as to be off-putting, it must avoid cliché and hold the poem’s rhythm and tone. It’s a lot to ask of a line but Judy Brown is an expert at them. There are so many examples of killer opening lines in her third collection Lairs (Seren) that it should be required reading for anyone contemplating writing poetry. For instance:

‘The number for Reception is always the easiest to dial.’ (Room Service Menu)

‘That was the day I discovered the tick’ (Settings)

‘Bring it on, I said, fizzy with rhetoric.’ (My Latest Era)

The poet uses simple, straightforward words to lead us in to poems that are anything but simple and straightforward. Her opening lines are a gateway into complex, layered poems, each one its own world of wonder. Once the reader knows they can trust the poet, that she knows what she’s doing, we are willing to follow her anywhere.

‘There is no menu so I order a steep glass wall full of eroded sky
fusing subtly along a horizontal axis
with a sea of a dull, base-metal sort, grey as lead
and, with white caps at its tips, like lead exposed to vinegar.’ (Sea-Want)

This sure-footedness in poetry allows Brown to venture into places a lesser poet might fear to tread, like the surrealism of ‘Waiting for the Pomegranate Boat’

‘I strung my noticing eyes on a rosary,
and clicked and confided.’
On the island I stuck to the facts;
they were slippery and touchable as blood.’

I also appreciated the poems that raised a smile of recognition like ‘Some Security Questions’

‘Q: What were the stupid questions? A: There are none
the statisticians said, but this was maths, so they could
be out there, capable of being asked. You might find one
holed up in some hard-to-fathom 5-D keysafe
downwind of the site manager’s office. Q: Are any cats kind?’

You will have to buy the book to find out the answer to that question and others.

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