Brain Songs

From the ‘Author’s Note’:

‘This book stems from the insights of neuroscientists who have conveyed “the splendours of the human brain” in a language comprehensible to one whose normal reading is poetry. Eric R Kandel, V S Ramachandran, Oliver Sacks and numerous others repeatedly remind us that such science is at a very early stage and that it could bring as many dangers as, right now, it brings benefits. What we know so far, and I am able to understand, reads like a first gloss on what poets have tried to hold true to for centuries.

With the confidence of possessing such ancestors, I have taken the liberty of letting the imagination play upon the scientists’ profound discoveries in a sequence of ‘songs’: a cumulative work, which builds an overall narrative. Walter Benjamin wrote, in 1936, that ‘The Storyteller’ is someone “who has counsel for his readers…counsel which is less an answer to a question than a proposal concerning the continuation of a story which is just unfolding.” It is in that spirit that these poems are offered.’

This, the fourth of Graham’s Villa Vic publications, has a wood engraving by Chris Daunt and a cover design from an embroidery by Trude Schwab, and is published in a limited, numbered edition of 200 copies and a specially bound edition of 20 copies, signed by the author and the artist. The poems first appeared, in a slightly different form, in Polish translation, in ‘Nowe Wiersze’ (Terytoria, Gdańsk 2014).

I really do not think with my pen, because my head often knows nothing about what my hand is writing.


…if you remember anything of this book, it will be because your brain is slightly different after you have finished reading it.

Eric R Kandel



cradled all day

like a bobbin

in the great machine

of the Sistine Chapel ceiling

God’s finger pointing

Adam’s ready to receive

left that precious gap

between them

the first synapse

between the outstretched finger

and the angled hand

ready to take in and pass on

what happens next

all the lightnings of creation

great volcanoes spewing fire

and long slow lives of oceans

found this small space to live in –

our version of the story

we have fruit-flies tell us now

and Aplysia the sea-slug annotates

with us at the keyboard


out of our senses

we can see

the last gold leaves

of the lime tree

as the first shoots of spring

can hunt out something burning

before we have moved

the toppling hyacinth

out of our room

can sit truly agog

at the steering wheel

of our father’s first new car

having smelt new leather

and touching the skin

along her shoulders

as the sun lands there

can taste the first peach

we never ate

but watched dripping

in the hands of a small child

twenty years before


off Sherbro Island


cast their nets

like grain

on still waters

each diamond

of sunlight

caught there

for one moment

then exchanged

for fish


at Bunce Fort

I find fragments

of clay pipe

still in the battlements

left by my ancestors

as they passed the time

watching for a ship

or thinking of home perhaps

with a slave-compound

behind them

had they just an inkling

even the slightest inkling

and did it take so long

to even start to understand

Recording: from Brain Songs