Abraham is a collection of poems about the ancestor of the Hebrews, Abram, perhaps the first true personality in the Bible; yet this is not a collection of poems about the semi-nomadic herdsman (c.2140 BC), but a telescoping of a young boy’s British Columbia youth / growth / culture into the plains of Jerusalem. Images and logical thought collapse; the lines are epigrammatic, visionary, and at times outrageous.
This is not a realist-lyric book, although there is enough sense and traditional diction to allow the reader a glimpse of what Colin Browne wants to say, but to get at the heart of these poems requires spadework. An 11-page glossary is included, but it is more a map to Browne’s personal image fonts than it is a gloss on the patriarch Abraham or Hebrew etymology.
The poem “The Holy Land” creates a sense and taste of Palestine at the same time that it drops us into Browne’s preoccupations. “We are in a city of a boy’s mind and these are olive trees and / that is the Queen of Nanaimo.” Or, in another marvelous sequence: “A cat sinks on the carport roof and interest rates jump down.”
Snatches of conversation, disappearing images, Browne will write, “Horses are a different master,” and he means “Horses are a different matter.” “Making the mast of it …” is really “Making the most of it.” These puns at times work and at times they distract. In all, they intrigue and delight, and in total, the book is worth it. By the way, if you can convince Browne to read these in public, don’t miss it.