Poetry: Daniel Brown | clivejames.com
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Daniel Brown

In retaining his baptismal name, the American poet Daniel Brown is being either commendably guileless or very canny. There is always the chance that some bookshop browsers will buy his excellent slim volume Taking the Occasion under the impression that he wrote The Da Vinci Code. But, no, few prospective buyers browse in that part of the bookshop. If they did however, they couldn’t do better than to pick up his little book and start reading. In the era when the English poets first discovered that pure reason could be a sensual thrill, always the most concentrated version of metaphysical poetry was written by George Herbert, because he took spiritual solace in transmitting the complex pleasure of being able to argue closely: the progress of the argument was the spine of the story in poem after poem. Daniel Brown does the latest version of that, with all the cultural references to modern society present and correct, but held together by the argument, which provides the poem’s motor. The effect, in any given poem, is of reading an especially acute paragraph by an analytical philosopher, yet uncannily it incorporates the common properties of everyday life, including a refreshing attitude to the necessary disasters of sex and love. (The attitude is refreshing because so often amusing. Think of the number of times you never cracked a smile at Sylvia Plath.) Ten short poems are given here. There are longer poems in the same book, including “Love Story”, an autobiographical poem about being taught music theory which makes you want to go back in time and tell Raymond Carver to lighten up: no short story has an excuse for being less ebullient than this, unless it tells you more. To put a complex case briefly, this poet, while far less copious than most other poets of his generation, gets much further because he can keep thinking while he laughs, and vice versa. Daniel Brown lectures on music at Cornell and Dartmouth, and lives in New York. Taking the Occasion is published by Ivan R. Dee in Chicago, and I recommend it with a whole heart as one of the few modern books of poetry that has twice as much in it every time you read it, instead of half.