Carolyn Jess-Cooke is the author of the award-winning poetry collection, Inroads (Seren, 2010), described by Ambit as “a first collection that does all the things a good debut … should do”. Inroads was shortlisted for the London Festival Fringe Prize for the Best First Collection of Poetry 2010. Her novel, The Guardian Angel’s Journal, earned her the title ‘the new Audrey Niffenegger’ by Company magazine and was described by Living North as “a powerful novel from a talented new voice … hotly tipped to be one of the biggest books of 2011”. The book has has just been published in America and the United Kingdom and is being translated into 20 languages. Carolyn is 32, has three children, and lives in Gateshead.
This debut collection from Seren, Inroads, showcases a startling new talent. Carolyn Jess-Cooke has a sophisticated poetic intelligence as well as a great sense of fun.
The opening piece, ‘Accent’ where “stowaway inflections and locally-produced slang/have passports of their own” is a praise poem for the versatility and joy of language, “The way sound chases itself in tunnels and halls, the way senses fold memory …”. This verbal fluency and dexterity are employed to offer us poems that are multi-faceted and often paradoxical. ‘Aeneas Finds Dido on YouTube’ is part satire, part tender re-enactment of the myth, featuring the most up-to-date media platforms.
After this playful start, a difficult childhood is evoked through metaphor in poems like ‘Music Lesson’,‘One Thousand Painful Pieces’ and ‘Bitten’, all the more heartbreaking for being indirect. Other high points are ‘Newborn’ with the apt description of a babe in arms being a “zoo of verbs/mewling, snuffling, pecking …”. This sweet realism again gives way to metaphor, in the strangely evocative ‘Dorothy’s Homecoming’ in a brilliant take on the classic film ‘Wizard of Oz’, the power of maternal love has turned into a ‘twister’.
“This first collection is a sparkling variety-act, choreographed with a strong but daring sense of form. There are subversive triolets, an air-borne re-invention of Larkin’s poem, ‘The Whitsun Weddings’, and poems in experimental ‘field’ layout. Some are almost surrealistic, as memories get up and perform karaoke-songs, or brutal beating becomes a music lesson. In others, Greek myths may be modernised and filmed, haunting landscapes captured, young motherhood described with witty realism and sensuousness. While memory at times traces darker inroads among the glittering, high-wire acts and comic cadenzas, the imaginative movement of the collection is outwards towards celebration. Jess-Cooke is a poet who revels in the magical pleasure of language, and readers will enjoy sharing it with her.”
– Carol Rumens
“There are breathtaking poems here. Whether writing about motherhood, accent, place or mischievously entwining the Classical world with YouTube and cable TV shows – and somehow still drawing pathos from it – Jess-Cooke has an unflinching honesty to match her powerful imagery. ‘Bitten’ makes you feel like you’ve been bitten, ‘First Time Buyer’ makes you feel like you have just got home, and ‘A poem without any vegetables’ makes you feel like you have children. Combine this with a sense of wide and deep reading, of reacting, of making a range of styles her own. Inroads feels refreshingly transatlantic – this is a poet unafraid of crossing boundaries, capable of being as simultaneously playful and serious, as good literature always is.”
– Luke Kennard
Stowaway inflections and locally-produced slang
have passports of their own, a visa for the twang
that tells me you’re not Xhosa
but a Geordie raised in Grahamstown, maybe. It’s a blitz
of souvenirs on the ears, the way you bring your bliss
of home that much closer.
Home? Or everywhere? Like combing coral
or sand and snow globes, or a wave-shaped petal
from Sydney’s Manly Cove
my voice fossils places. The way sound chases
itself in tunnels and halls, the way senses
fold memory into five
is an accent’s suitcase aesthetic. Listen.
There’s an address, a postcard in the tone,
the foreign rhythm
and that emphasis, that accent on the off-beat
which echoes longing clearly; the picked-up place-music speaks
where you ache to be, with whom.
The first time I was five. An Alsatian
we teased stripped a layer of skin from wrist
to elbow. It was a blind sensation
the first time. I was five, and all stations
between six and twelve were flagged with lesions
connected, somehow, to a need to be kissed
for the first time. I was five, and satiation,
wet ease, stripped a layer of skin from risk.
from Inroads (Seren, 2010).
Order Inroads here or here.
Order The Guardian Angel’s Journal (Piatkus, 2011).
Visit Carolyn’s website.
Visit Carolyn’s blog, The Risktaker’s Guide to Endorphins.