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.

Right to the heart of motherhood and loss.


I got both of these books on the same day and I met both of the poets on another same day. Perhaps that is why these two books are linked together in my mind. They are both astonishingly well written. They both made me cry. They both made me think about my own version of loss.The poems led me to a door I don’t open very often, one I have tried to write about but find I can’t. Not yet anyway.

‘The pain of nursing and losing a sick baby inspired the poet to write a collection which has earned her a place on the Forward poetry prize shortlist.’

Rebecca Goss writes in a very clear way; I almost felt like the stunning poems were medical notes as I read them. Not that the poems are devoid of emotion, quite the opposite. The poems are raw, tender and precisely detailed. Careful in the sense that they must be written right, the memory must be preserved accurately like a flower pressed between the pages of a hardback book captures the memory of summer. They are heartbreaking to read but always the life itself shines through, not the death. That and the mother’s steadfast courage and love.


We have her prints.
Hands and feet, pencil grey,
as if they stood her in soot.
A nurse lifted her palms
then soles to the paper.
Underneath, wrote her name,
the date. I wanted her handprint
to come home on sugar paper:
bright yellow, ready for the fridge.
Months later, the sun picked out
her paw on the pane, each tip,
tiny as peas. I peered close,
nose almost touching my fossil,
backlit on the glass.
“Print”  Her Birth by Rebecca Goss (Carcanet, 2013)


‘In Imagined Sons  Carrie Etter has written a book of vivid, heartbreaking poems on the experience of giving up a child for adoption. A prize-winning author, lecturer, critic and popular blogger, Etter imagines the possible destinies for the child and presents us with various scenarios from the tragic to the absurd.’

Carrie Etter uses the catechism form to answer the questions so often casually thrown to women who give up a child for adoption. Between these poems are a series of Imagined Son poems. Each one imagining a meeting with the man he might now be. A glimpse, a conversation, different points of his life. Like dreams they begin unexpectedly in a new setting and end without reunion. It is very unsettling and emotional to read, but like any good book I could not stop, wanting to read another vivid scene. Etter shows the complexity of it all: nothing is simple or black and white. Longing is presented next to reason, emotion next to logic. It is this rich layering that makes the poems so brilliant in my opinion.

My favourite poem from Imagined Sons 13: The Woodcutter