Brownjohn's public spiritedness (he was a Labour councillor and once stood for Parliament) comes through in his poetry which, like Larkin's, often investigates the contradictions between obligation and desire. Brownjohn himself acknowledges the moral purpose of his writing: "I write nothing without hoping it might make the world one grain better - a pompous statement which, I suppose, makes me a moralist as a writer, a humanist one." This is borne out by the subject matter of his poems which, for all their stylistic and thematic diversity, are principally interested in human social interaction. Narrative is often the chosen mode of investigation: some poems, 'An Orchard Path' or 'The Presentation' for instance, have the charged mystery of the best short stories. Brownjohn is an acute and sometimes satirical observer of "the minutiae of human behaviour" whether exposing the sinister banalities of modern life in 'Incident on a Holiday' or detailing the rituals of boredom and hierarchy amongst the department store staff in his sequence 'The Automatic Days'. Alongside this social realism is also a strong streak of the fantastic and surreal, often employed in the creation of dystopias as in his description of the overbearing Nanny in 'From his Childhood' whose ringing cry of "Courage!" is both amusing and unsettling.
A veteran of hundreds of readings, Brownjohn's relaxed voice is the perfect medium for the measured tone of his work. Dramatic without exaggeration, it's a voice that invites the reader's trust and then subverts the "courteous periphrases of English life" (Sean O'Brien) into something far more dark and disturbing.
His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 12 July 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London, UK and was produced by Liane Aukin.