Flarestack, 2008 £3.00
‘Resting Place’ is ambitious for a chapbook, partly in its length, poems filling 49 of the 56 pages—with many full collections coming out at around 64 pages, it’s not so far short of that. By some definitions, it wouldn’t even qualify as a pamphlet. There’s ambition also in the structure, which divides it into four sections, ‘No Resting Place’, ‘War and Exile’, ‘Starting Out’ and ‘Resting Place’. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, you certainly get your money’s worth for the £3.00 cover price—and it’s nicely presented, glossy cover, eye-catching photograph, unfussy. On the other, I’m slightly wary of pamphlets which seem not quite comfortable within that format, and the bulk of pages here makes them bulge slightly.
However, moving on from that, ‘Resting Place’ offers a wide selection of material and subject matter, personal and family poems with references to Irish roots, a few glancing at the natural world, and a number—including a long sequence in the opening section—informed by the poet’s background in Russian studies and English literature which give the collection a more distinct voice. ‘Worlds Apart: 1941-1945’ looks at the coincidence of Virginia Woolf and Marina Tsvetaeva both having committed suicide in 1941.
Her landlady said, ‘She still had some roubles,some vegetables, she could have hung on
a bit longer …’
while the bishop’s wife so ready to judge
thought the war was your reason when you said, ‘I cannot
go through any more of those bad times …’
The poems which made most impression on me, however, are the more personal ones such as ‘Second Date’, during which “love drifted sheepishly in at the back” and ‘Bible’ and ‘Rounders’, which reminded me of the Bible-and-badminton mix of my own teenage years. Cooke is good at summoning up the not too distant past, as in this vivid haiku, ‘Spring in the Sixties’:
Prams like Black Marias
crisp white cotton babies
displayed in the sun.