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
“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.