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Carolyn Jess-Cooke

the poet

Carolyn Jess-Cooke lives in Glasgow with her husband and four children. Her prize wins include an Eric Gregory Award, a Tyrone Guthrie Prize, and a Northern Writers' Award. Her third poetry collection will be published by Seren in 2021, and her fiction has appeared in 23 languages. Carolyn's most recent novel (published as C J Cooke) is The Nesting.

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the poems


00:00 / 01:31

I kept you in bed with me so many nights,
certain I could hold the life into you,
certain that the life in you wanted to leap out, hare-like,
go bobbing off into some night-field.
For want of more eyes, more arms
I strapped you to me while I did the dishes, cooked, typed,
your little legs frogging 
against the deflating dune of your first home.
Nested you in a car seat while I showered, dressed,
and when you breastfed for hours and hours
I learned how to manoeuvre the cup and book around you. 
Time and friends and attitudes, too.
We moved breakables a height, no glass tables.
Fitted locks to the kitchen cupboards, door jammers,
argued about screws and pills someone left within reach.
I’ll not tell you how my breath left me, how my heart stopped
at your stillness in the cot, and who I became
when at last you moved. There is no telling
what skins of me have dropped and shed in the fears
I’ve entered. The day beyond these blankets,

beyond our door, is known to me now,

fragile as moth-scurf, its long ears twitching, alert,   
white tail winking across the night-field.

iamb (Logo).png

Yesterday, I Failed

00:00 / 02:31

I failed, and the failing was great thereof.
I failed all the way to the sulphur cliffs of cynicism,

then bungee-jumped.

I shot a hole in one in failure.
I failed and changed the course of history.
I failed admirably, catastrophically, unremittingly, relentlessly,

perspicaciously, deliciously, spaciously, and with the dexterity of the common impala.

I did not merely stall, pause, or change my mind –
I failed, like any serious attempt at oil painting in a wind machine. I failed, but the crops did not.

I failed in a field, and filed as I fooled.
I walked right up to failure, kicked it in the shins,

and insulted its mother.
I fell in love with failure. We got married and raised a family of failures.

I failed to the sum of the square roots of any two sides of an
isosceles triangle.

I failed in the key of D flat.
I failed my heart out, I failed until my lungs burned, my brain rattled,

my skin flapped like a rag against my bones and my tongue uttered only ‘failure’...

I failed, much to the regret of the management.
I went scuba-diving in failure, I camped under failure,

I hiked to the summit of failure, I painted the floor with superglue while failure was sleeping

and when it woke up ... I laughed. I failed in several languages.

I added failure on Facebook.
I failed from caveman to Homo Sapiens.
I failed stupendously, outlandishly, biblically, savagely, juicily, Byzantinely,

heroically, intergalactically.
I failed in hard copy, fax, text, email, Skype and podcast.

I failed to the soundtrack of James Bond.
I failed as magnesium is to water, as the Apocalypse is to a Saturday morning lie-in,

as Godzilla is to the streets of Tokyo.

I failed, and I failed, but at least
I tried.

iamb (Logo).png


00:00 / 01:17

What are you like?

A minute old, you’re a sky-blue

candle quarried from the fire, beeswax on my belly, then a nub of warm dough

and in the basket by my bed you’re
a bag of ripe peaches, soap-bubble fragile, a slow-waving field fattening with wheat

and at the breast you’re a zoo of verbs mewling, snuffling, pecking,
wolfing, then coiling

into sleep, where you’re a water-wheel churning ancestral reflections
in the journeys of your face

until it’s morning and you’re unleashed light, a pinking pearl, a key turning
in the lock of clocked breath

filling our house with hows –

how did the soul arrive there? like a stitched wish or the way the wind winds itself
into the sea’s receiving skin

or did life find you, invite you to climb to the nib
of the wick and, if so,

what flame set you alight?

Publishing credits

Hare: 2013 National Poetry Competition anthology

  (The Poetry Society)
Yesterday, I Failed: The Stinging Fly (Issue 13, Vol. 2)
Newborn: Inroads (Seren Books)

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