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 The Wizard of Oz, the power of maternal love has turned into a 'twister'.
Readers will enjoy discovering this striking and versatile new voice.
"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' lay-out. Some are almost surrealistic, as memories get up and perform karaoke-songs, or a 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"
"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've 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."
Carolyn Jess-Cooke is a Northern Irish poet and novelist currently residing in north east England. Recipient of an Eric Gregory Award, the Tyrone Guthrie prize for poetry, a major Arts Council award, a Northern Promise award and second place in the Cardiff Academic International Poetry competition, her work has appeared everywhere from promotional handbags for the Durham Book Festival to a 700m steel floorscape in a medical facility in Middlesbrough. Inroads is her first poetry collection; and her first novel, The Guardian Angel's Journal, is due to be published by Little, Brown in 2011.