Masterful new collection from Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection, We have to Leave the Earth (Seren), is a skillful collection that suggests the reader be present in the moment and vividly experience our world as it is now, both domestic and political. The poems are those moments in dreams where the dreamer becomes lucid and sees things as they really are, like the slap of ice-cold air in the Arctic poems awakens the reader and defines the whole collection.


In this collection Jess-Cooke is intrepid in her descriptions and choices of subjects, like an archivist piecing together fragmented remains to find clarity and understanding.
Jess-Cooke conjures (and there is a sense of enchantment or spellcasting present in the sensual figurative language utilised) precise, evocative imagery to discuss wide-ranging subjects, such as disability, feminism, the environment and motherhood, and creates a sense of travelling through experiences and environments. There is an explorer at work here, one who views the world, in all its vast complexities, as no different to a child needing nurture from its caregivers.


Jess-Cooke opens with an enveloping poem that combines both stillness and movement, about that most intimate of places, the family bed. Filled with folds of fabric, a sleeping child and a, ‘fox-red in the lunar TV light’ snoozing dog, Jess-Cooke layers images as tenderly and quietly as snow falling and builds a drift of thoughts to consider this precise moment that is being observed, now, reflecting on, ‘ how many nows make up a life.’ This philosophical poem is crafted as a stream of thoughts and images, without a solid pause until the end point, an appropriate form to examine life as a series of fluid fragments pinned together, and made sense of, by love. Placing this poem at the beginning of the collection indicates a poet at a point of mastery over their own work, as the thematic work that follows seems askance at first to this domestic setting, being the radiant-white landscapes of the arctic and Viking history, however, as Jess-Cooke moves from the interior space to exterior enormity she retains this sense of closeness, of being tenderly present in the ‘now’ of our current world, a poetic and persistent mindfulness that does not flinch from raw truths.

Two reviews of QJM

Carolyn Jess-Cooke has kindly reviewed my book and is also giving away a copy. Just comment on her web post or tweet: Read the full review here

“The significance of this book as a work of art, however, is in its reclamation of history from the female perspective. That the poems themselves are brilliant, almost all of them adroitly executed, makes me want to stand up and give the book a round of applause. There is mastery here, boldness, and a lively assertion of what poetry can give to the historical imagination. This is a book that deserves widespread acclaim.”

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Jessica Birch has also reviewed the book in The Next Review

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“If our national history can be described as at least to be sluiced in blood, then Stacey has used the red element startlingly, superbly in this book…The liquids stink and soil in equal measure, and the near-erotic thrill of attendant, queenly, ambition. It’s a real strength of this book that there is no slow historical development of these women’s awareness that they could rule alone, that they could attain power: no, from the start this is a committedly feminist book….

I salute the publishing house that allows a poet’s debut to be this damn ambitious and this damn unapologetic.”

Joanna Boyce Elgiva Anglo-Saxon noblewoman

 

Voicing Shadow, Singing Light

Carolyn Jess-Cooke has written some of my very favourite poems about motherhood. I read her book Boom! published by Seren, and all I kept thinking was: that is exactly how I feel about it. Such authentic, clever writing. Carolyn is a writer who, I think, captures something very universal about motherhood and mothering and she expresses it in such beautiful lines. Boom! is a very honest book and looks at parenting from different perspectives, including the lows as well as the highs.

From the title poem Boom!

There was this baby who thought she was a hand grenade.
She appeared one day in the centre of our marriage
– or at least in the spot where all the elements of our union
           appeared to orbit
and kept threatening to explode, emitting endless alarm-sounds
                     that were difficult to decode.

It captures the explosive nature of having a baby; everything you knew is blown apart and re-made into something that contains this new person.  I urge anyone looking for a book about motherhood to buy Boom!

Carolyn is also undertaking an important project at the moment on her blog. It is called Voicing Shadows, Singing Light and  ‘it is a blog series designed to tear down barriers of silence that perpetuate suffering and deadly last resorts.’

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Carolyn writes: ‘Mental illness affects all of us. More than a third of the population of Europe is affected by mental illness every year, with depression now recognised as Europe’s leading chronic condition. Mental illness is strongly linked to suicide; according to the World Health Organization, by the time you have finished reading this paragraph at least one person will have committed suicide.’

After putting out a call on Facebook and Twitter for poems ‘ that articulate some aspect of mental illness – whether as sufferer, survivor, carer or friend’ Carolyn has arranged them into a series of 7 posts. Today is day 3 and features one of my poems called Dark Thoughts, Lately. I am grateful to be included amongst such excellent poets. So far each post has been full of breathtaking poems that articulate different aspects of depression. I keep re-reading them because it is comforting to know you are not alone with the black dog, as it sleeps just outside the door, waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing and Motherhood

Ledbury starts this Friday! Those words may mean nothing to most people, but to a certain type of person they cause a shiver of excitement and expectation. The kind of people who spend hours debating a line break or think that reading a thesaurus is a treat. Poets.

I am reading from my new pamphlet on Saturday, but before that I am chairing an event called Writing Motherhood. I was excited to be asked to do this because it is something that I can relate to as I have three children of my own and I have often had to fit my writing in around my role as a mother.

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The three poets who will be reading their work and debating the issues around the subject are Hollie McNish, Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Rebecca Goss. I have been thinking about it a lot, as I write poem edits whilst waiting at gym class for my daughter or make notes on the edge of my child’s old spelling practise. For me, writing and motherhood is intertwined and cannot be separated easily. It’s not easy being a mother who writes: two occupations that are equally time consuming and require me to be focused. I wouldn’t have it any other way though! I am looking forward to listening to the conversation that is generated about women who write and have children. How do they find the time? Does it make them a better writer? Or does it hamper them and stop them from achieving what they want? After I had the children time suddenly became very finite and precious so when I had a moment I would use it to write with a burning intensity, aware that I didn’t have long before I had to focus on the children. Come along and join the conversation on Saturday.

Writing Motherhood

Saturday, 5th July
11:00 am – 12:00 pm

£8.00

Burgage Hall

Does becoming a mother affect your creative life? Does a child ‘cost’ a female writer four books or profit her writing? Poets  discuss the various ways that motherhood has influenced their writing, and perform newly commissioned work in response to the social and political dimensions in which motherhood operates.