Book Review: Fool’s Paradise

Fools Paradise

Fool’s Paradise, by Zoe Brooks, is a poem for voices that was first performed in 1992 and published by White Fox Books. This reissue has recently been released by Black Eyes Publishing. The monoprint used on the cover of the book was created by Hannah Kodicek, a late friend of the author who she accompanied to Prague immediately after the Velvet Revolution, a visit that proved a major inspiration for this work.

There are four key voices in the poem – three travellers and a fool they meet at a crossroads on their journey. The fool is accompanied by his dog and becomes the travellers’ guide.

“Perhaps your country
was never mapped
for target practice,
your timetables never structured
for the movement of troops”

The journey is divided into four parts followed by an epilogue. The story being told is opaque and dreamlike, yet it provides a vivid account of the confusion and loss to be borne in the aftermath of conflict. Between the lines, questions are being asked about how it all happened, why the people acquiesced to their leader’s demands.

“The madman leads the blind”

The travellers make their way to a city, fearful of meeting militia, remembering their lives before they became exiles. On reaching the city they observe not just the shadows so many people have become but also the damage wreaked on infrastructure – and continuing danger. They lament their personal losses, including small talismans that are all that remain of their before.

“I have forgotten the taste of bread,
I am forgetting that I ever lived.”

Interactions between characters are riddle-like which brings to the fore how traumatic enforced exile can be – the internal scars caused. The travellers are tired to the bone yet sleep brings no relief. When separated from the fool they dream of him – the boundaries with reality quiver and blur. They observe people held in a cage, remaining there despite the padlock on the gate being open. Perhaps they have forgotten how to take the initiative after their willingness to follow.

The final section, titled Hell and Back, portrays an aftermath in which the fool returns and grey souls are observed, one of whom is ‘that man who held the world in chains’.

“At the brush of his pen, millions died.
At the sweep of his arm
babies burned”

Traveller 1   Why does he weep?

Traveller 2   For conquest lost perhaps or lust unserved.

Fool             No, he weeps for paintings he did not paint.”

The epilogue is a looking back. All has changed and yet the experience remains seared within.

It is clear that this poem would provide the basis for a powerful performance. Reading it demands pauses and rereads to peel back layers and consider what is implied within each conversation. The dreamlike structure and language add a dark beauty to what is an horrific ordeal that too many are forced to endure due to power hungry leaders. It is a reminder of the lasting cost of oppression and exile, and that supposed victory is not lasting.

“You say that you have gone back to the city and all is changed, that the angels are gone, the candles extinguished, that the bridge is lined with trinket vendors and all is turned into pettiness.”

A disturbing yet deeply thought-provoking read, written with succinct perspicacity. The voices in this poem deserve to be heard.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

Book Review: Owl Unbound

owl unbound

“In death
they shall inherit the earth.
Until this time
they have been living
on borrowed land.”

Owl Unbound, by Zoe Brooks, is a poetry collection that explores big issues man often ruminates over – life, death, disappointment, expectations. The author winds her thoughts around the wonder that is nature, where such things happen but are accepted as a cycle. Modern living demands control and sanitisation. There is a disconnect with wider existence – oft ignored interconnections that affect wellbeing.

Where love is mentioned it is as a search for something personally fulfilling, or as a loss.

“Our love is without sap,
like the flayed ash”

There is a loneliness in relationships referenced.

“I stole the moon for you,
but you did not even notice”

Many of the topics explored are presented with a degree of bitterness, but there is also humour in the musings.

As well as nature, history features. Fossils are found on a beach and a young boy wants to believe they are from dinosaurs, not simple sea creatures. The ghosts to be sensed in old buildings are ignored by those uninterested in a past that inexorably shaped people and place, concerned as they are only by current experiences.

Punch is a powerful series of poems that use the traditional puppet to portray cause and effect of attitudes and actions – resentments felt by some men and where this leads.

There’s Nothing To See is a clever play on aspects of ageing, including the increasing invisibility of the elderly as they move through society.

“I have taken off my body
and hung it on the wardrobe door.
It has become too much for me.
I am tired of pulling it on
each morning rumpled by sleep.

I have worn it so long
it has lost its shape.”

There are observations on living in a female body, within and without – menstruation, pregnancy, the souring of friendships, disappointing love affairs, watching a parent die.

The writing is penetrating in the insights shared although with an undercurrent of despondency. What comes through is the importance of surroundings – noticing and appreciating small details that offer perspective on personal problems that must be dealt with.

I took from my reading of this collection how man puts himself at the pinnacle of existence despite the short time each spends amongst the living.  The poems reflect how much better life can be with less naval gazing and more quiet reflection on the wider views to be found all around. Carefully written and offering much to consider, this was a worthwhile read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.