The Book of Belongings

The second full collection by Brian Johnstone, published by Arc in 2009 in their Poetry from the UK & Ireland series.

The Book of Belongings reads like an archaeology of the lost, its pages carefully uncovering and observing what has vanished, died or been abandoned. Visiting former theatres of war, remote landscapes of Scotland, France and Greece, pre-war classrooms and the nightmares of childhood, these poems are not afraid to gaze long and hard at what has been deliberately concealed, erased, or dismissed as worthless – the past with all its demons, its sad domestic litanies. Brian Johnstone writes with an enviable facility, often from unusual perspectives, eliding time and space, letting geography merge seamlessly into history and, in so doing, gives vanished histories a voice.
                                                  blurb by Anna Crowe


‘the poems are carefully considered and shaped, both as…structures and as fields of force, in which every word plays a precisely calculated part [giving] great power and sharpness of focus, with a strong sense that what you are reading is not a momentary impulse…but the fruit of distilled meditation, with a weight of experience and thought behind it.’    Edmund Prestwich, The Manchester Review

‘Often his poems come from a calm meditation on the tenuousness of surfaces and the vacancy and displacement that unsettles us when we contemplate them…[while] the humanity implicit in the poems’ voices resonates strongly throughout the collection.’    John Miller, Northwords Now

‘These poems are full of technical refinement,fascinating perspectives and provocative expressions. What one notices almost immediately is the control exhibited in these poems, the feeling that they are not spontaneous and unformed nor that they draw undue attention to the artifice of their creation. They are quietly, but markedly well-made things.’    Stephen Lackaye, Edinburgh Review

‘writing grounded in reality; it combines symbolism with biography...illustrating how we cope and do not cope with change and time... Poems of place have an intimacy and sense of history... rhetorical, yet of the human voice.’    John Idris Jones, Inpress

‘There is a tension in these poems between the tentative…and a constant undertow of violence…an unerring truth to everyday experience [that] beguiles but is never the heart of the poem…These poems impose a quiet attention.  Low key, they are highly charged.’    A C Clarke, Markings

‘a book about memories and secrets and the passing of time. It is also about loss – of innocence…[and] the loss of lives in war.’    Susan Mansfield, The Scotsman


'highly crafted, accessible…a mature, elegant collection by a gifted poet.’    Kathleen Jamie

‘Many of [the poems] are strikingly beautiful and all of them are wonderfully well-made.  This is a collection that readers will revisit over and over again.’    Louis de Bernières

‘wonderfully adventurous poems [that] keep turning out small secrets.’    Alastair Reid

‘a syntax that flows and flexes…precise and musical.'    Esther Morgan

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The Archaeology of Childhood

by Will Maclean