Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Jennifer Cooke notes

Yesterday's virtual ramble began, I think, by searching for online poems by Jennifer Cooke. She's a poet I've slowly got more curious about, e.g. most recently from reading the anthology Out of Everywhere 2, which contains her South Mimms Motorway Services poem, or 11/12 of it anyhow. In the past I've always ended up being put off by reports of her attack on self-improvement books. This time I decided to press on regardless. I'm glad I did. I discovered for instance her enthusiasm for Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, which I totally share.

The South Mimms poem "STEEL GIRDERED HER MUSICAL" is in part violent fantasy-narrative somewhere between W.H. Smith, Starbucks and the toilets, somewhat recalling the McDonalds episode in Keston Sutherland's Stress Position. This, and other poems that I've previously read online, are high-energy, brutal and grimy. They were collected in * not suitable for domestic sublimation (Contraband Books, 2013).

Review by Claire Hurley in Shearsman Magazine, who emphasizes the comedy:


Five poems in Great Works ("Honda's Right Hand Works Hard", "REEMOIR", "CARBORUNDRUM MORNS", "SONNET A", "THE SECOND DAY"


but stories won’t leave edges
alone days lived without understanding
always a finger tip’s reach out of hers
why it is more tales come snap saturation
more brokenbabiesandcriesandlegsrunning
stretched taut she lies floorward thinking beyond image or symbol to colour’s uncertainty
and three others intact stand one squats looking to not touch yet at the vulnerable surface
telling the day’s sun into aches and eyes floppy this time rinsed still without conviction
veined redness tints her in-looking for the others around near here perhaps without a
torch on the ward she shudders into stillness.

(end of "THE SECOND DAY")

Cooke has since published another poetry book in a very different mode, Apocalypse Dreams (Sad Press, 2015).  [Since then, the apocalypse seems to be picking up pace. But Cooke was already contending that we were in it.]

Andy Spragg interview with Jennifer Cooke about Apocapalypse Dreams (Datableed magazine). The poems are all real dreams dreamed by Cooke. They are apocalyptic as in: they are dreams about the final moments, the end of all things.


The work originated in her DPhil work about the Plague, beginning with Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year.  Studies like that give you vivid dreams. The book that came out of those studies is Legacies of Plague in Literature, Theory and Film (2009). You can read quite a lot of it thanks to the Amazon Look Inside! feature. The first page of the introduction had me hooked.


The last epidemic of Plague in western Europe was in 1720 in Marseilles. It has since remained as a gruesomely memorable metaphor for afflictions that are perceived as indifferently smiting a whole population; in contrast to the way that most people perceive diseases such as cancer or Alzheimers, as a disease that strikes down an individual. (Though, to be fair, cancer has a rich metaphorical life in our culture too; but it has a different set of connotations.)

Sometimes the afflictions that are compared to a plague are demonized groups within (or seen as parasitic upon) society, e.g. "Plague" has been used to stigmatize groups such as Jews, gays, migrants..


Cooke also edited and introduced Scenes of Intimacy: Reading, Writing and Theorizing Contemporary Literature (2013). You can see a PDF of her excellent introductory chapter via Academia. The intimacies are about sex, mourning, death and other things that are difficult to talk about.

Here's a more complete list of publications. As of Dec 2016, there's a couple of interesting ones that are still going through submission.



I wanted to read some poems from Apocalypse Dreams, and I found six of them in the Australian Cordite Review, which did a special edition on British and Irish poetry in March 2015.


It also contains five poems by the brilliant Andrea Brady  (I guess they are also in her latest collection, which I haven't seen yet), and significant pieces by such faves of mine as Peter Larkin, Francesca Lisette and Nat Raha. And lots of other good things too.

Anyway, here's one of the apocalyptic dreams. Nice to see those bleached corals emerging in a final-moments scenario, especially in an Australian publication!

Sky Writing

The democracy of water: shocking

really in the stratified worlds we are losing.

But these internal compulsions of tidal ligaments

deeper, older than me

and simply unstoppable.

On the edge I consider these realities

with the likelihood I will die

and the sure knowledge that if I live

I don’t know what that will mean,

look like, be or where located.

At best: pain; an after blank.

Like the others, I give myself up

to the waters. Acquiescence

is inevitable.

We bob. Quickly, sinking a bit, swimming a little


We are happy – are we stupid?

Horseplay and banter despite

the swill of speed and the salt swallows.

[Do worse things happen at sea?]

Here is the corner. Ahead – hello Homer! –

a rocky basin swells and falls, white and blue and spray.

The very meaning of spume.

Sea contractions expose coarse corals, smash

matter to matter.

We are bloodless; shit fish.

And it is just water coming down on people.



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