zine, [zeen] noun. 1. abbr. of fanzine; 2. any amateurly-published periodical. Oxford Reference


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Golden Rule - collected poems of Ernest Noyes Brookings

The Golden Rule - collected poems of Ernest Noyes Brookings

Boatwhistle Books, 2016

242 pages, 12.8cm x 19.7cm, perfect bound paperback


This is not a zine, but it couldn't be more fundamentally zine related. If you don't recognise the name Ernest Noyes Brookings we have to go back in a time via a digression. 

In 1979 David Greenberger started the zine The Duplex Planet. Seeking to capture the personalities and histories of the residents of a nursing home he was working in, David began to interview them. Answers to questions like 'What kind of animal would you be if you had to be one?', or 'What can you get for free?', offer a poignant glimpse of lives lived in our recent history. Due to the perfect combination of content, emotion, and humour, The Duplex Planet became hugely influential, and at its peak it could name among its regular readers the likes of Michael Stipe and Lou Reed. 

The Duplex Planet zine spawned many offshoots: a comic book series that featured stories and interviews taken directly from the pages of the zine combined with strips drawn by some of the biggest names in graphic art; and David Greenberger continues to release albums of spoken word set to music that capture the humour and personality of various residents - bringing the words to life in a way well beyond the capabilities of the printed page. 

And within all that is the work of Ernest Noyes Brookings.

Encouraged by David Greenberger, Brookings started writing poetry at age 81, and in the time leading up to his death at age 89 he wrote over 400 poems on a huge variety of topics. The poem titles reveal their subject: Milk, Taking a Bath, Toaster, Spaghetti, Life of a Detective, Watermelon. All receive the same attention, wit, wisdom, and sometimes off the rails logic. Five compilation albums were also made of left-field bands using Brookings' words as lyrics - a series of heartfelt tributes to a true original. 

Brookings' poems were originally published in the pages of The Duplex Planet, spread across most of the 178 issues. The Golden Rule collects together for the first time all of Brookings' published work, and a few poems never previously published in any form. It's the perfect poetry book to read out loud (which I did through a speaking tube, as catalogued in my zine Hi, it's your dad here). Brookings' unexpected twists and turns of language, his repetition of unique phrases and images across different subject matter, is a joy to share with others. 

The introduction by David Greenberger recounts his friendship with Ernie, and the inspiration and origin of Brookings' first poems. Two appendices are also included - one concerns the difficulty of transcribing the poems from Brookings' tiny handwriting, the other is an essay about his poetry that includes this perfect advice:

"Young poets should quit those goddamn idiotic creative writing programs and read this man's poems for 6 months, every day, all day, without rest, and without reading any other poetry" 

Although that's an extreme prescription, Brookings' poems are a lesson for everyone, not least because they prove that it's never too late to start something new. 

You can buy The Golden Rule direct from Boatwhistle Books - boatwhistle.com/the-golden-rule

or order via your favourite bookstore. (ISBN: 978-1-911052-00-5)

You can find some of David Greenberger's albums on Google Play Music, Apple Music, and Spotify. 

Duplex Planet back issues, merchandise, and Ernest Noyes Brookings albums, are available from: duplexplanet.com

Review by Nathan Penlington

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