On first looking into Brown's 'Hunting the Kinnayas'

Hunting The Kinnayas by Andy Brown,
Stride Publications, 11 Sylvan Road, Exeter, EX4 6EW.
ISBN 1 900152 94 0.
Price £7.50

The layout and appearance of the book is attractive – lots of white space and a nice small typeface, but easily legible. A lot of it doesn't seem like poems at all. Rather, they seem like short essays, ruminations. With footnotes and addenda to add interest. It is somehow not a book of poems, but a poet's sketchbook – a book of notes and sketches and some more finished pieces, and all the more interesting for that.

The title of the book is rather intriguing: what are Kinnayas? – a wonderful idea that the Burmese Buddhists had – a creature that is half human, half bird (a bit like a Harpie, then - the Greek idea of half woman/half bird). Kinnayas weep for 700 years after being separated for one night! Brown likes words and language; so he should! By using the word 'palimpsest' at least twice in this volume, Brown has declared himself a member of the cultural hegemony! (Artists, writers, dramatists and poets have to try and include this word in their oeuvre
wherever possible these days. But you knew that!)

Many of the poems are to do with birds of some description. The first 'piece' is about drawing blindfold birds – I think this is a great idea and I might try it with my English students (or possibly my art students)! Put a blindfold on and draw a bird – any sort of bird you like – then swop it with your friend and get them to analyse it – as he suggests:

the intellect of the beady eye; the absentmindedness of the missing tail; the meditative
sketch of an owl drawn in the hollow of a tree; the curiosity of a hen pecking grits; the `
diligence of a dipper formed in short, neat lines; the flambo
yance of a swirling

all the things you may unwittingly reveal about your personality in a drawing.

And then he leaves a space for you to draw your bird. And then he leaves a space for your friend's analysis of your drawing. A neat idea – apparently it works with pig drawings, too.

The book has many references to birds – this is the leitmotiv
of the book. In 'Field Notes' you sense the pure enjoyment that Brown gets from simply observing and identifying different species on Devon's estuarine mud flats.  Birds also get the humourous treatment in the 'Abecedary of Birds' and 'Mythology of Birds'. Other poems use the avian theme more laterally and metaphorically.   A nice line at the end of 'Audubon Becomes Obsessed with Birds' reads:

because birds are like ideas – they visit us fleetingly, nest, then disappear.

The longest piece in the book is a sort of prose poem. By the author's account, this is a 'found' piece – collaged and collated from articles written in various different languages, by an unknown author – they were found inside a collection of 1950's travel magazines. Brown translated or interpreted them and put them into some sort of sequence – and put his own stamp on them. The title he has chosen for this piece is strange, and it colours your reaction to the piece before you start: 'The Diary of an Ugly Human Being'. Thi title Brown borrowed from a line in a book by Jamaica Kincaid – 'The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: a tourist is an ugly human being.'

The 'tourist' goes to some remote and wild places in an unnamed country – it could be Afghanistan or Mongolia or somewhere in the Balkans. It reminds me vaguely of the writings of Patrick Leigh Fermor. The 'tourist' travels from place to place and there are very acute descriptions of people and landscapes. Everywhere he goes, he seems to receive huge hospitality from people, who perhaps have little to give, yet share it gladly. Poignantly, at the end, he turns to say goodbye to his new-found friends, and they have vanished.

These poems are an intriguing mixture – sad, playful, philosophical. They somehow show that there need be no barriers in poetry, that all these things can be combined. His poems are musical and tender, but written with great precision.

© Carey Moon 2004