Return to Brookings House

Excerpts from Dr. Al Ackerman's introduction to the collected poems of  Ernest Noyes Brookings, We Did Not Plummet Into Space, published by Innerer Klang, Charlestown, MA, 1983

"Whether you deign to call him a 'folk poet' or a 'people's poet,' there is too much of a sense that this is essentially programmatic, that if only we can cobble together enough labels, we can build a handy box...somehow bundle this poet E.N. Brookings into it, fingers, toes, exasperating,
enigmatic, loose ends and all. With very few exceptions, however, this is all a social convention, a purely mechanical construct.

In the case of this particular collection, We Did Not Plummet Into Space is something...with which you can claim the chance to at least catch your breath, that its merits are rare, intimate, often humorous and frequently incongruous.

What emerges in this poet's pursuit of his rhymes is often a caution. You might not think such a simple, rigidly adhered to formula as abab, cdcd, efef, etc., would allow much in the way of elbow room or variety. Evidently it is limitless. It is, in the right hands. Brookings takes us from one wonderfully surprising vista to another, including passages that in their india-rubber capacity to stretch and separate sound from sense often approach a kind of 'white style'; consider the fifth stanza of the one called 'Intuition,' for example:

At a local hospital to a patient not sleeping
Medic an intuition as to what may soon occur
Patient yes within several weeks a group meeting
One question to decide will animal of human be him or her -

Frequently, too, he can manage to sound like a delightfully awkward translation of a great French poem.

In Brookings' work, a considerable dignity is conferred on each detail, each thing, each creature. This is why, no matter how playful he becomes, no matter how far the shape of something is stretched out through the transom and around the fireplug by the call of the rhyme, the distortion never warps itself into meanness, never becomes envoy to the kind of spite-at-the-expense-of-its-own-fellow-creature that so often mars the work of much bigger 'names.'

The word is magnanimity. In Brookings' poems, it is a quality that never calls attention to itself, and yet it is always everywhere in evidence. When I take a gander at how late in the day it is and how far we've come in developing techniques for packaging and marketing our own worst, most predatory inclinations, I feel astonished that anyone today ever manages this magnanimity. Everything is against it. And that is why I'm sure it's high time we had this book. It is not faultless; it is human. Human-hearted. Funny. Quirky. Pretty amazing, too, especially when we consider that most of us in our 20s and 30s in the arts spend 90 percent of our time improvising ad hoc excuses to substantiate our claims that we are able to do less and less. And the poet is 84 years old.

Return to Brookings House

©2003 The Duplex Planet