In launching the second collection of poems by Brook Emery, University of Newcastle lecturer and critic Christopher Pollnitz declared "Misplaced Heart is the best book of Australian poetry I've read so far in the twenty-first century. It's a book that makes me grin rather than laugh; and it's a book that makes me weep, with joy, with admiration, and with its unsentimental pinpoint pathos". Reviewers have generally echoed these sentiments on meeting with Emery's three collections, noting his precise, accurate descriptions that embrace geology, oceanography, and astronomy in an imaginative fashion rarely encountered in Australian poetry.
The poet Jennifer Maiden remarked on the anapaestic insistence in Emery's first book, a metrical effect that "reproduces the rhythm of the waves and that also suggests a reflective but eager mood" that she locates in Emery's fascination with natural processes. Much of Emery's work commences with oceanic and natural forces, and while his poetry superficially appears studiously pantheistic, closer attention discovers stress and anxiety: as Maiden observed, the speaker digs his fingers into the sand in order to avoid being swept out to sea.
Emery worked as a swimming instructor, beach inspector, removalist, and for many years as an English and History teacher. His range of reference includes the history of thought and scientific investigation, literary production and contemporary politics. His reflections on the violence of humans and of nature are tinged with wonder and acknowledgment of incomprehension concerning meaning. His poems acknowledge affinity with religious and secular thinkers from Augustine to Orwell, to artists disparate as Jane Avril and Miles Davis, and poets diverse as Milton, Wallace Stevens, and Mayakovsky.
The poems draw attention to serious thought, even in so playful a poem as ‘Thirty-six Views of Bondi Beach'. Craftsmanship is also apparent in Emery's experimentation with metre and stanzaic and other forms. He has written many essays on poetics, and uses technical effects and language to advantage in poems treating with interiority as well as empirical subjects. Such poems shift perspective from interior to exterior, with fluency that matches a calculating mind.
Emery employs space as a crucial element; at times, long lines are packed into blocks that contain dense teased-out thought. In this, he might be said to have some affinity with the Australian poet R.D. FitzGerald, another writer on oceanic themes. Elsewhere, Emery's thought processes are imaged in lines that are separated more than usually.
In these recordings Emery's reading is relaxed and alert, as he give each word its measure. Setting off with effortless breath control, he slips easily into long loping rhythm, swimming through the poems with elegant vocal economy. The poems in Selected Reading from Uncommon Light were recorded by Carol Jenkins in May 2007 for River Road Press. The poems 'Physical' and 'The mind is a body breathing' were recorded in May 2009 by Carol Jenkins specifically for The Poetry Archive.
1998 Dennis Butler Memorial Prize
1999 Newcastle Poetry Prize
1999 Australian Sports Poetry Award
2001 Arts Queensland Judith Wright Calanthe Prize for Poetry
2002 Bruce Dawe National Poetry prize