This Week, I Read Paul Brookes: Stubborn Sod

Image Credit: Lís Clíodhna via Unsplash

“Enter her grove barefoot,/no leather here,/no blood sacrifices/done.//Offer her honeyed milk,/not wine,” the speaker says in Paul Brookes’s collection of poems, Stubborn Sod.

Stubborn Sod is the second installment in a trilogy of collections which surround Pagan cycle of year. Stubborn Sod begins in January, with the Pagan Sabbat of Imbolc, and ends in May, with Beltane, which gives the book a sense of waking up after a long sleep. The poems are accompanied by the abstract, visceral artwork of Marcel Herms.

In the poem, “Red the strong,” the speaker says: “Belief is a ship/on the fish-flecked sea,/close-hauled and tacking,/against this Christian gust.” This sets up the scenario. He goes on to describe the ship as having a dragon’s head and gilded–a veritable Viking ship. It ties in Pagan lore and history in a really powerful image. At the same time, the action of the poem seems to occur on a ship.

“I’m brought before me boss/who offers me baptism./”And,” says he, “I will not/take thy property from thee,//but rather be thy mate,/if thou wilt make thysen/ worthy to be such.” Thus, the speaker’s dilemma is this: become a Christian and deny his beliefs. Naturally, the speaker says that he won’t. Thus, the boss here tells him that “thee/ shall die the worst of deaths.”

So, the speaker is killed by a snake down the throat. I chose this poem to discuss because it ties in perfectly with the title, Stubborn Sod. In one sense, the book is about the ground as the seasons change, the thick grass that takes root. But it’s also about the Pagan in “Red the strong,” because he’d rather die staying true to himself and his beliefs. Paganism is, ultimately, about taking care of oneself and the earth and those around you. It’s about embracing nature and making things better.

I really enjoyed Stubborn Sod and I highly recommend it. Brookes’s poems are a masterful display of craft. It’s a celebration of Paganism that doesn’t try to argue or proselytize, but stands steadfast in the rich and ancient traditions and lore. The collection is available now through Alien Buddha Press.

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