Tag Archives: David Cooke poems

David Cooke’s Work Horses

David Cooke was born in 1953 in Wokingham, although his family comes from the West of Ireland. In 1977, while he was an undergraduate at Nottingham University, he won a Gregory Award.

His first collection, Brueghel’s Dancers, was published in 1984 by Free Man’s Press Editions. His retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published by Night Publishing in 2011.

David Cooke is married with four grown-up children. For many years he was Head of Modern Languages at a large comprehensive school in Cleethorpes. In recent years he has earned his living as an internet bookseller.
Work Horses (Ward Wood Publishing, 2012) opens with poems that look back on David Cooke’s upbringing in an Irish family in Berkshire, then surprises by taking the reader further afield into Russia and the Muslim community of Sri Lanka. In earlier collections Cooke examined questions of identity and belief from his own background, while here he continues to explore the theme of migration in new historical and geographical contexts. Family relationships are still central to the poems, with thoughts about his own lost faith coinciding with his daughter’s conversion to Islam. Cooke’s musicality, cadence and craftsmanship continue in the poems of Work Horses, while their plainspoken eloquence makes them accessible even when the themes covered are at their most complex and though provoking.”
Reviews of previous collections
“The ghosts of a West of Ireland family haunt these poems, but Cooke is not treading ground already made familiar by others. Growing up in England, he is a poet whose ‘making strange’ grows naturally out of his exile between two countries.”

– William Bedford, Agenda
“Along with his understanding of the poem as a made thing, Cooke exhibits a flair for investing the ordinary with new significance. Experimental in the best sense, technically impressive, and rooted in the actuality of everyday experience, David Cooke’s poetry is immediate and memorable.”

– Ian Parks, Endymion
“Cooke is a convincing and rewarding poet whose work deserves a wide readership.”

– Peter Bennet, Other Poetry
Nevsky Prospekt
Having survived the impoverished years
with a patience that comes from impeccable
breeding, Nevsky Prospekt makes its way
like the grand narrative of history –

from Moscow Station where we arrived,
bleary-eyed on the night train and felt how air
was chiller, to the state rooms of the Hermitage
which later we duly admired.

The slightly crumbling neo-classical
facades were the pastel shades of icing, pale blues
and greens, while the yellow, an ocean of paint
picked up as a cheap job lot,

is said to create the illusion of warmth
in the depths of winter’s depression.
There were amputees on the pavement,
their stumps bound tightly in parcel tape,

and bored touts like jesters
in brightly coloured boiler suits.
Loud hailers that crackled all day long
were promoting city tours

and not proclaiming some new invasion.
Beneath its theatrical drapes, a shopping mall
was being scrubbed for the future,
the age of the oligarch and the business lunch.
At Varykino
You insist upon living till the life you’d live
has damned you, your intransigence
forcing you on like a train that pounds
its rhythms across some hard white terrain.

Adulterous and anachronistic, a stubborn
glow illuminates your doomed affair
as when, like a ghost reborn, Strelnikov
told you the private life is dead;

his rectitude a new kind of purity
whose thought is doctrinaire,
his speech a bridled mob
that makes you seek your chances

beyond the margin of events.
Arriving at Varykino, you find a house
that is wrecked in snow, a past’s discredited
chattels forgotten beneath its sheets.

There is no sense beyond gesture
as you rework the pattern
of days stripped of consequence, awaiting spring,
its new growth pushing beneath untrodden snow.
Shadow Boxing
The closest my dad ever got to poetry
was when he savoured some word
like pugilist, or the tip-toe springiness
he sensed in bob and weave,
his unalloyed delight in the flytings
and eyeball to eyeball hype
that went with big fight weigh-ins.

I, too, might have been
a contender when I did my stint
in the ring, my dad convinced
I had style and the stamp of a winner.
But in the end I just got bored.
You had to have a killer’s instinct
to do much better than a draw.

In the gym the lights are low.
It’s after hours. I’m on my own.
The boards are rank with sweat
and stale endeavour. Shadow boxing
like the best of them, I will show
him feints, a classic stance,
trying always to keep up my guard.
In the Peradeniya Gardens 
On our own again, and never so free in years,
we had risked the embrace of a different climate
then sweltered in its unaccustomed heat;
discovering that day, quite unexpectedly,
what might have been the Gardens of Eden,
laid out by a squad with theodolites.

And Peradeniya was music in a tongue
called Sinhala whose fleeting syllables
I knew I couldn’t pin down, sharing
in the vision of those who had governed
two centuries here, their flawed hegemony
sustained by profit and a few good intentions.

With time to ourselves, we strolled along
the royal palm walkway, our steps enlivened
as we sensed how native light had softened
a stern perspective; then wandered on
past ayurvedic trees, an orchid house,
and the glazed composure of a lily pond;

its stillness mirrored in the utter calm
of the young couples we saw around us –
hands held like statues, their passion subdued
to the norms of public display, the strict
regimen of courtship and betrothal;
our own daughter, too, accepting its rules.

The gardens were the legacy of a marriage
that was now long over. Around the perimeter
fruit bats rode the thermals like prehistoric birds,
and the giant Java fig tree, its branches
propped, the sprawling system of its roots exposed,
had risen up in chaos from its central lawn.
from Work Horses (Ward Wood Publishing, 2012).
Order Work Horses.

David Cooke’s In the Distance

David Cooke won a Gregory Award in 1977 and published Brueghel’s Dancers in 1984, but then stopped writing for twenty years. A retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published this year by Night Publishing. A new collection, Work Horses, will be forthcoming in 2012 from Ward Wood Publishing. His poems and reviews have appeared in journals such as Agenda, The Bow Wow Shop, Critical Quarterly, Cyphers, Envoi, The French Literary Review, The Irish Press, The London Magazine, The North, Orbis, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, The SHOp, Stand and The Use of English

Cover art by Douglas Robertson

“The ghosts of a West of Ireland family haunt these poems, but Cooke is not treading ground already made familiar by others. Growing up in England, he is a poet whose ‘making strange’ grows naturally out of his exile between two countries. The limewashed pieties of rural Ireland are here, but in a wider context of European culture and history. After a long silence, David Cooke has burst back into life, in a welcome and gifted performance.”
– William Bedford

“Along with his understanding of the poem as a made thing, Cooke exhibits a flair for investing the ordinary with new significance. Experimental in the best sense, technically impressive, rooted in the actuality of everyday experience, David Cooke’s poetry is immediate, memorable and impressive.”
– Ian Parks
“These beautifully honed and memorable poems are real finds. Wide-ranging in themes and form, they attest to a natural and extremely gifted poet.”
– Patricia McCarthy
“David Cooke’s In the Distance evokes diverse historical places and persons. Hauntingly and beautifully, he also reveals something more than can’t be set in time and space.”
– Paul Sutherland
“Like bulbs kept a long winter under the stairs, David Cooke’s poems are grounded in experience and grow on an integral rhythmic pulse. His poetry will amply reward the hearing it deserves.”
– Peter Robinson
 The Latin Lesson
With sturdy jowls Brother Athanasius,
who back then we knew as Beef, chomped great slabs
of Virgil, which he digested for us,
struggling with the English in Brodie’s cribs.
Aeneas and Father Anchises moved
through a pagan world obscured by the toils
of syntax, while we shambled on, reproved
by a voice more urgent than the Sybil’s.
The Brothers could all quote Latin, pronounced
with a palatal blandness, the soft sounds
of a church’s dialect, and enhanced
their wisdom with words unscholarly minds
found locked in lexicon, drill, declension.
And those words, too, were the smell of incense
in a quiet house of genuflection,
tall candles lighting the untouched presence.
The Morris Minor
A lustreless
black, it slept all night
in a shed with the relics
of a different era:
a crumbling harness,
broken tools, a horseshoe
nailed to the wall –
then gargled to life
on busy mornings
when we drove
into town or to Mass.
Down the lane
the old man nudged it
as it lurched on
wrecked suspension,
its bodywork
strafed by brambles,
until at last
he coaxed it out
onto the open road;
and all those trips
we made in convoy
across that rambling landscape:
Enniscrone, Pontoon and back.
So many kids
and so much lumber –
the whole bloody tackle!
Going to Mass
I shuffled at the back
for years, and kept a truce
at home by looking
at others around me –
the prim communion faces
worn like a mask
on dutiful daughters
or those lighters
of candles, old women,
who crooned the response
from missals and knelt
as though caged
from doubt; through
pious circumstance
each rite had refined us
in faith, but now
when the host is raised,
a tiny weightless moon,
it drifts in orbit
beyond all touch of mine.
for Belinda
Coonalingan and Johnsforth,
my terminal townlands –
when I take myself back
it’s summer again:
the corn in stooks
like a redskin’s village;
the swallows slicing
through miles of blue.
How easily then
we assumed our right
of entry where our books
and accent exclude us –
the snug interiors
where Christ’s heart glowed
on a wall, delft ranged
on an ancient dresser.
Around the table,
foursquare, central, we sat
for soda bread, tea and cake.
Above our heads
from wedding photos
those who had left
smiled past, their features
fixed, yet distant.
from In the Distance (Night Publishing, 2011).
Order In the Distance.
Order a signed edition here.
Read more of David’s work at Write Out Loud.
Visit Doug Robertson’s website.