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This review is taken from PN Review 275, Volume 50 Number 3, January - February 2024.

Cover of Brother Poem
Joe Carrick-VartyWill Harris, Brother Poem (Granta)
Speaking Sideways

I’m always suspicious of poetry that claims to know exactly what on earth is going on. Brother Poem, Will Harris’s second book, works because it relinquishes its knowing. The book achieves a single, extended conceit, one of an imaginary brother who is rendered and rendered again by the poems’ speakers, where the act of calling and calling into an absence becomes a form of knowing (or a way of knowing?). And the result? A poetics that cultivates emptiness if only to reach beyond the very end of distance: ‘If I can’t reach you, let me fold these words into a better / concept of direction’.

It’s a fun experiment, one the poet calls ‘an experiment in speaking sideways’: how far can you push the conceit? How long will you wait for an answer? And, most important of all: what will the echoes sound like? Because the brother-shaped echoes are what lift this book beyond: ‘I heard it. And I heard it in your speaking.’

Take the poem ‘Weather and Address’, where two realities, two timelines echo simultaneously: ‘Walking down West Green Road… toggling with street view / and the view itself’. This subtle determination between views allows for distance to collapse and tangible absence to take on the act of filling, instead of merely being filled. So, the poem is calling and answering at once: cool! Again, the speaker, while addressing the brother, uses ‘a mode of address / emerging like the weather, not directed at but around us… not looking at you but / at the ...

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