Brown, James

Brown, James



In Brief

James Brown is a poet and short fiction writer. His first book of poems Go Round Power Please won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award. His subsequent collections include Lemon, Favourite Monsters, The Year of the Bicycle, and Warm Auditorium. He is the author behind the useful, non-fiction booklet Instructions for Poetry Readings and, in 2005, edited The Nature of Things: Poems from the New Zealand Landscape. Brown has been a finalist in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards three times. He teaches the Poetry Workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, and is a freelance writer and editor.


Brown, James (1966 - ) grew up in Palmerston North. He has several collections of poetry, all published by Victoria University Press, and he has been a finalist in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards three times. He lives in Wellington with his partner and two children, is a freelance writer and editor, and teaches the Poetry Workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University.

In 1991, Brown completed Bill Manhire’s creative writing course at Victoria University. For much of the 1990s, he was a freelance writer/editor and co-edited the literary journal Sport. 'From 2005 to 2016, he was part of the Writing Team at Te Papa - New Zealand's national museum.

In 1994, he was awarded the Louis Johnson New Writers Bursary, and a New Zealand Society of Authors / Reader's Digest Stout Research Centre fellowship. His first poetry collection, Go Round Power Please (1995), was shortlisted at the 1996 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and won the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award.

‘Brown is bricoleur,’ writes Anne French in New Zealand Books, ‘a home handy man with found language; and unlike many of them, he puts it to proper use, makes poems with neatly mitred corners and doors that are hung straight.’

David Eggleton
notes that ‘Brown is ever intent on disrupting the reader’s expectations on offering something unexpected. He wants to convey a sense of shock, surprise, discovery. He’s out to show how ambitious language can be as a form of communication.’

Brown’s second collection, Lemon, was published in 1999. Writing in the NZ Listener (Dec 25-31, 1999), Elizabeth Knox calls it ‘possibly the year’s best New Zealand book. James Brown’s latest book has teeth and claws, social savvy, poetic sensibility, and stimulating peculiarities. Lemon is a great reading experience.’

Brown also writes short fiction. His stories have appeared in the NZ Listener, Sport, Landfall, and have been broadcast on Radio New Zealand. They are also anthologised in Zig Zag (1993), The Picnic Virgin (1999), and Boys’ Own Stories (2000).

In 2000, Brown received a Buddle Findlay Sargeson Writers Fellowship, and in 2001 he became the Canterbury University Writer in Residence. In 2002, he was one of four authors shortlisted in the inaugural Glenn Schaeffer Prize in Modern Letters.

Brown’s third collection, Favourite Monsters (2002), is a book of many voices, and of subjects ranging from politics to parenthood, art and religion. In 2002, he also published a booklet entitled Instructions for Poetry Readings (Braunias University Press) under the pseudonym Dr Ernest M Bluespire. Offering Dr Bluespire’s well-schooled advice on how to successfully give or attend a poetry reading, the booklet was reprinted in 2004.

Brown was the Victoria University/Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence in 2004. In 2005, he edited The Nature of Things: Poems from the New Zealand Landscape (Craig Potton Publishing). The book features photographs from the renowned landscape photographer Craig Potton alongside landscape poetry, and was a finalist in the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

Brown’s fourth book of poetry, The Year of the Bicycle (2006), was also a finalist in the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

He was the editor of the online anthology Best New Zealand Poems 2008. His own poetry is widely anthologized, most recently in Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets (2009).

In 2010, James Brown had a small collection of poems, Against Gravity, published as part of the Duets series, which pairs poets from New Zealand and the United States. He shares the book with US poet Dora Malech. A poem from Against Gravity, 'The Green Plastic Toy', became his fifth poem to appear in the Best New Zealand Poems series. In 2010 Sport magazine published his poem 'Popocatepetl' as a series of illustrated cards that can be read in any order.

Brown’s fifth book of poetry Warm Auditorium (2012) explores Brown’s love–hate relationship with lyricism. The poems move through personal lyrics, narrative desire, short takes, and prose poems before arriving at a climactic anti-poetry. Along the way, they play Premier League football, learn the tuba, and join the blond revolution. Warm Auditorium is Brown at his most formally diverse, taking tea with rhyme, tongue-twisters, lists, and monologues. Different voices abound and several poems obey unusual restrictions.

Hamesh Wyatt reviewed Warm Auditorium for the Otago Daily Times, writing, 'In this latest slim volume of verse Brown is clever, humorous and exciting. He illustrates his love for his family and life. His goofy humour is quite contagious. Brown pens poems that are simple, restrained, yet border on something insane. Brown has always known how to craft poems, some that end with a ba-boom, others drift away. He captures mood effectively in his poems.' Warm Auditorium was also reviewed in the Listener.

In 2014, Brown wrote three early reader books (My New Zealand ABC Book, My New Zealand Colours Book, and My New Zealand 123 Book) for Te Papa Press. He also writes children's poems for the School Journal and has poems in Annual and Annual 2.

In 2016, Brown's essay 'Turnips' was included in the creative writing book The Fuse Box, and more poems were included in Best NZ Poems.

In 2017, Brown wrote Floods Another Chamber (Victoria University Press), which was reviewed in the Otago Daily Times.

In 2018, James created what he calls 'a transcribed poem' out of Herbert Morrison's famous radio commentary of the Hindenburg disaster:
Hindenburg: a transcribed poem

In 2019, Alan Gregg, formerly of popular band The Mutton Birds, turned two poems from Floods Another Chamber into songs: 'Shrinking Violet' and 'Peculiar Julia'


Updated January 2017.