AUTHOR'S NOTES; Carolyn Jess-Cooke Describes Writing Her First Poetry Collection, Published 12 Years after She Started Writing It

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

AUTHOR'S NOTES; Carolyn Jess-Cooke Describes Writing Her First Poetry Collection, Published 12 Years after She Started Writing It


Byline: CAROLYN JESS-COOKE

Poetry is a lot like parenthood - those who are in the thick of it understand that its pains may indeed be great, but its pleasures are greater, whilst those are not in the thick of it wonder what the rest of us are bothered about.

'Why poetry?' I have been asked on occasion, as if I had sworn off the material world and elected to spend the rest of my days dressed in sackcloth in a monastic shack.

But the question lingered with me - why poetry, indeed. Why was I drawn to write poems above novels, short stories and - despite being a budding filmmaker, once upon a time - screenplays? Why did I have my heart set on publishing a poetry collection at the tender age of 19, when there was nary a penny nor a grain of fame to be had from the poetry world? What, in short, was the big deal? The answer to this is best unravelled through the narrative of that initial burst of creative epiphanies that lead me to understand poetry as the lens through which my world could at last make sense.

Along with hundreds of other GCSE English candidates across the UK, I had my nose in a copy of War Poetry at the age of 15, and suddenly I found it was the only class I actually looked forward to attending.

Poetry offered something different - the relationships between form, rhythm and language seemed so much greater than the sum of their parts.

Maybe I was simply buying into a kind of angst that spoke to my own teenage brand of it - but war poetry rocked. Having already penned a collection at the age of 12 - illustrated and titled 'Interesting Tales of the Obvious', very much in the manner of Roald Dahl's Rotten Rhymes - I upped my game a little 10-fold and fantasised of seeing my own bunch of poems in book form.

And so began many angst-riddled poems and letters to publishers, pleading for them to publish my collection.

I do believe my initial stab at a poetry collection had the word 'memoirs' somewhere in the title - so you can imagine the reaction of publishers.

I think Peter Fallon at Gallery Press in Ireland told me off for sending so many submissions. But I was still in my teens and still had a crush on poetry.

But when I signed up for Carol Rumens' poetry module in the final year of my undergrad degree at Queen's University Belfast, it was no longer a crush - the study of triolets, villanelles, and sestinas, as well as an introduction to a range of contemporary poets such as Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, Seamus Heaney and Mary Oliver gave me more and more reasons to love poetry. Olds' family poems have a command of language and a particular investment in honesty that seemed to reach out of the page and grab me by the throat.

Oliver's poems - which I continue to read and re-read - transport me into the lush landscape of New England, bringing me to an immediate and intimate sense of my spirituality.

The kinds of understanding, communion, peace and creative aspiration that these poets brought to me was above and beyond any other creative medium I had encountered - poetry had the quality of music to it, but also the vibrancy and texture of film, the dynamics of a tapestry and, above all, a celebration of my own voice, my own language.

My collection Inroads began in the form of a poem I wrote for Carol's class, way back in 1998. …

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