Tag Archives: Carolyn Jess Cooke

Late Sunday Poem – Jane Clarke


I know this is not even close to Sunday any more but this was the closest I could get.  I’ve had a really busy weekend which wasn’t helped by the fact I got lost leaving Lancaster last night after reading at an event.  There were lots of roadworks and diversion signs and I missed the turning for the motorway in the dark.  Then I stupidly took the wrong turning and went the wrong way up the motorway due to tiredness, I think.  I saw a sign for Preston and off I went, forgetting I was already further north than Preston – doh!  By the time I got home it was about 1am.  The event was a poetry reading to raise money for children in Palestine and Syria, organised by Lizzy Hare.  It was really well attended and I found it very interesting and bought two books – one was an anthology of Palestinian poetry, translated by Scottish poets called ‘A Bird Is Not A Stone’ (what a fantastic title!) and a book by ‘Izzeldin Aubelaish called ‘I Shall Not Hate’.

I travelled to North Wales on Saturday afternoon and stayed with my friend Manon and her husband Dylan.  We went for a lovely chinese buffet on Saturday evening and then on Monday I drove from Manon’s house for about 45 minutes to Cymau to run an all day poetry workshop for a Stanza group there.  The workshop was organised by Robbie Burton and Martin Zarrop and I had a really lovely day with the group – the standard of poetry produced was  really high.  During the workshop we read poems by Ian Duhig, Jane Clarke, Shazea Quirashi, Pascale Petit, Ruby Robinson, Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Vicki Feaver.

On Friday I had a gig with the Soul Survivors at The Nines nightclub in Barrow which was really good fun but again, meant a late night on Friday and then getting up at a reasonable time to get myself organised for the weekend.

To be honest, last week was a bit ridiculous – and it was all my own fault.  On Thursday I decided I wanted to go to Dove Cottage Poets, a monthly poetry group that meets at the Wordsworth Trust, under the direction of Andrew Forster.  I also decided I wanted to take part in the weekly sprint session at the park at 6pm.  So after Dove Cottage Poets, I raced back from Grasmere, got changed and flew out again.    I’d bought tickets to see Germaine Greer at Forum 28 on Thursday night and hadn’t written it in my diary, so had promptly forgotten all about it until I was reminded by my friend.  I was also supposed to be at a soundcheck and rehearsal with the Soul Survivors for Fridays gig.  I decided to compromise, which worked out really well.  I went for the first half of the Germaine Greer event and then ducked out in the interval, rejoicing because after the interval it was question and answer time with the audience, and I’m not sure my temper would have survived that.  I got to the soundcheck about 8.30 as promised.

On Wednesday, my manager came to observe my teaching in the morning.  Then I did the 2nd live chat for the Poetry School for the online course I’m running – that was good fun, but hard work and quite intense.

Which brings us up to date and the exciting news that has been officially announced today – I have a poem on the shortlist for The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.  I’m especially chuffed because it is a poem from the sequence called ‘In That Year’.  I’ve known for a few weeks but haven’t been allowed to say anything.  It was first published in Poetry News and I’m really grateful to The Poetry Society for sending it in to be considered for the prize – I had no idea they had even entered it so it was a wonderful suprise!

Today’s Late Sunday Poem is written by Jane Clarke.  Poems like ‘Inheritance’ by Jane perfectly illustrate why I first thought of the Sunday Poem and thought about blogging.   I wanted somewhere that I could write my excitement when I I read something that I loved.  This is one of those poems – as soon as I read it, I wanted to tell everyone I knew about it.  The repeating line ‘I’d give it all up in a minute’ is really effective and creates a great conversational tone.  I love the assertion ‘I’d give it all up in a minute’.  It’s so ordinary, and yet, we become aware more and more as the poem progresses, of the unreliability of the narrator – will she ever be able to give it up?  The movement throughout the poem is really interesting as well as the narrator starts off saying all of the horrible things that he would not miss but by the end they are beautiful, natural things that he will miss.

I loved the use of the word ‘himself’ as well – kind of fond and disparaging at the same time. It’s a wonderfully short and deceptively simple poem.   Jane Clarke’s first collection is ‘The River’ published by Bloodaxe. This is one of my favourite first collections that I’ve read this year – I think the whole book is really stunning.  I’m falling asleep now, so am going to leave you with some information about Jane before I let her poem take over.

Originally from a farm in the west of Ireland, Jane now lives in Co.Wicklow.  She received the Listowel Writers’ Week Poetry Collection Prize in 2014 for her then unpublished first collection.

If ‘Inheritance’ doesn’t persuade you to go and buy ‘The River’ then you officially have a heart of stone!  I really hope that this book gets on some of the shortlists this year – it certainly deserves to.

Inheritance – Jane Clarke

I’d give it all up in a minute,
every last rock,
stream and sod of it.

They can have the price of sheep,
the grant for the cattle shed
and the bills from the vet.

They can have himself
with his humours and stories
and fear of anything new.

They can have the saplings
planted last spring, the kestrels
nesting in the mill.

I swear I wouldn’t miss a thing,
not one swallow sweeping
through the yard, not the geese

on the callows in March,
not one blade of foxtail
or meadow-grass heavy with dew

Sunday Poem – Carolyn Jess-Cooke


Afternoon all!  Seems strange to be starting writing this in daylight but I’m parked on the sofa for the rest of Sunday now.  In fact I’m feeling so lazy I can’t even be bothered to go and get anything to read, so thought I would do my blog instead.  I’m parked on the sofa because I’ve been for my first attempt at a fell run with the husband today instead of my usual hour run with Walney Wind Cheetahs on the road.  It probably wasn’t the best weather conditions to have a go at our first fell run – blustery winds and incessant rain, but most of it was fun, although I prefer the running part to the picking your way over really slippy rocks part.  I seem to be at one extreme or the other in terms of physical activity at the moment – either running lots of miles or spending the whole day on the sofa.

This week I’ve had a great time doing some runs – on Wednesday it was the Hoad Hill Harriers 10k in Ulverston and previously-featured Sunday Poet Keith Hutson came all the way over from Yorkshire to have a go at running it.  We had a great time and I managed to get my new best time for 10k which was 51 minutes and 12 seconds – I managed to knock over three minutes off from my previous time and Keith was just behind me after I rather rudely overtook him in the last hundred metres or so.  And then yesterday I ran 5k at the Barrow Park Run and got another new personal best time – 23 minutes and 39 seconds.

Anyway, I won’t go on about running any more because I know that most of the readers of this blog came to it because of poetry.  Unfortunately I’ve not been doing much poetry to be honest.  I’m still running the weekly Dove Cottage Young Poets group for the Wordsworth Trust – this week the teenagers brought some of the poems they’ve been writing and hoarding so that made a nice change.

I also went up to Grasmere to the Wordsworth Trust to see Paul Farley and Owen Sheers read.  Owen Sheers read from ‘Pink Mist’ which is a verse play drawn from interviews with soldiers who were injured in Afghanistan and their wives/girlfriends/mothers.  I’ve just finished reading Pink Mist and I think it’s very good – very ambitious, shocking, moving.  I’d definitely recommend it as something a little bit different – I think it is as readable as a novel.

The programme for Ilkley Literature Festival arrived today – you can find it online here but I would recommend ordering it by post as it is very long!  I’m really looking forward to all the events I’ll be doing – I’m running quite a few writing workshops, including one where people have to sign up to do a 4-5 mile run first before they’re even allowed in the workshop!  I am running workshops when you can just slink in without having to worry about doing anything more energetic than pick up a pencil.

I’m also reading with the amazing Michael Laskey and Matthew Sweeney one evening and taking part in an event with Otley Brass Band which I’m really excited about.  I have a couple of weeks left of the summer holidays, so I’m going to start steadily planning the sessions I’m doing at the Festival – even though it’s not till October, I think it will be here before I know it and in between now and October I have to move house and hand my first collection in so I definitely need to keep on the ball.  The other thing that is happening in October is the residential poetry course that I’m running with Clare Shaw down in St Ives – when I checked a couple of weeks or maybe a month ago there were four places left, so if you’ve been thinking about it and not got round to booking your place now is the time!  More information here if you would like it, or please feel free to email me if you have any questions about the course.

I will also be back in work in September so I have a feeling the Autumn term is going to be busy.  There is one other thing happening – I’m one of FIVE tutors on this Online Poetry School course – I’m really looking forward to this – there will be five different assignments from five different poets followed by a live chat about the students poems.  Another occasion when I thank whoever is listening that I learnt to touch type when I was 17 – best thing I ever did! Anyway, if you would like more information on the course, ‘5 Easy Pieces’ you can find it here.

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Carolyn Jess-Cooke – Carolyn was due to be next week’s Sunday Poem but her publisher Seren are running a promotion on the kindle version of her poetry collection ‘Boom!’ – you can buy it for £1.99 instead of the usual £9.99 if you click on this link here.  I’ve only bought poetry a couple of times on Kindle because I like having the real book – but I think this is a very good offer and you can’t really go wrong for £1.99.

I first heard Carolyn Jess-Cooke read at the Women’s Poetry Festival in Grasmere as part of her ‘Writing Motherhood’ project which is currently touring the UK.  She read alongside Rebecca Goss whose poetry I’m also a big fan of and Sinead Morrisey who was fantastic.  In fact, I don’t mind admitting that I had a little tear in my eye by the end of the reading, which took me completely by surprise – as I don’t have children, it is not a subject that I would have thought I connected with easily – but the poems were wonderful.  As you can see from the Sunday Poem, as well as being about Motherhood, it is also about marriage and love and transformation.

I like this poem because of it’s physicality – the baby that is coming is likened to a hand grenade which changes everything.  The baby seems to have all the power in the relationship ‘threatening to explode’, ’emitting endless alarm-sounds’.  The baby ‘blew us to smithereens’ but by the end of the poem, we realise the end is not the end ‘We survived, but in a different state:’ I think this poem is interesting because of the way it explores change in relationships as well – I think it goes against the grain of the version of relationships that we listen to in love songs and observe in films – you get married and live happily ever after and that is the end.  This poem goes beyond that and explores what happens afterwards – ‘We held on, expecting each day to be our last.  We did not let go’.

Boom! explores the experience of raising four young children but there are also poems about the body and physicality explored in an honest and direct way.

Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an award-winning poet and novelist published in 22 languages.  Her latest novel ‘The Boy Who Could See Demons’ published by Pitakus in 2012 is being made into a film.  She lectures in Creative Writing at Glasgow University.  If you would like to find out more information about Carolyn head over to her website at http://www.carolynjesscooke.com


Boom! – Carolyn Jess Cooke

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.
On the ridge of threat, we had two options.
One was attempt to make it to the bottom
of the crevasse slowly, purposively, holding hands. The other
      was see how long we could stand there philosophizing
      that when she finally went off we’d be able to take it.
But then the baby who believed she was a hand grenade
      was joined in number: several more such devices entered our lives.
      We held on, expecting each day to be our last. We did not let go.
As one might expect, she blew us to smithereens.
We survived, but in a different state than before: you became
      organized, I discovered patience, shrapnel soldered the parts of us
      that hadn’t quite fit together before. Sometimes when I speak
it’s your words that come out of my mouth.