An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Redbeck Press
24 Aireville Road
ISBN 0 946980 65 2

Smith/Doorstop Books
The Poetry Business
Bank Street Arts
32-40 Bank Street
S1 2DS
ISBN 1 902382 33 1

Arrowhead Press
70 Clifton Road
ISBN 0 9540913 3 7
6.95 [US$11.95]

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This page last updated: 28th June 2008.

Bob Cooper writes earthy poetry with a lyricist's touch. This combination of toughness and sensitivity is a winning team. Geordie characters, one after another, rise up from these pages fully formed not just in the physical sense but with an added dimension; giving them a dignity and mystery whether they're repairing a car or having a piddle: JOHN AT THE SHIELDFIELD GARAGE

	A glance seems enough as he bends, unscrews the airfilter, 
	prods with a finger  fetch a half cup of petrol  pours. 
	start it again  a spurt  then he spits, wipes his eyes, swears. 
	Cleaning his hands he explains a lazy fuel pump  and 
	your carburettor, the jets the width of a darning needle, 
	doesn't block, just needs time. Or prime it see? 
	He accepts we sometimes keep running on empty, tikes his trannie 
	loud as he works  ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE, LOVE  he sings 
	as the bonnet's pressed shut, and the body rocks slightly, 
	and all that he's touched still trembles, hums.
Cooper is not afraid of the long line as many contemporary poets are; each line is as long as it needs to be his eye is never off the ball. Like a genre painter Cooper's subjects are all around him. In the untypical short-line poem ON THE NEWCASTLE METRO he demonstrates an ability to create an almost moving image (pun not intended!) from a very ordinary scene. This is a poem with senryu qualities:
	And there with the overcoats, 
	smooth hair, gloves, 
	where people crowd in, crowd out, 
	like pollen an unconsidered touch 
	of perfume, cashmere, 
	stays with me on the escalator, 
His eclecticism within the frame of working-class Newcastle is heralded in the very first work of this twenty four poem collection MOVING INTO A TOP FLOOR FLAT. An ordinary life here is centred on the place where he lives: a myriad of small things sounds, sights, desires ... an ordinariness made special by his ability to single out everyday objects, feelings and melt them into other worlds infinitely more profound:
	Life is either your hat, coat and umbrella laid on the settee 
	or the simplicity of fingers that pick up and unwrap 
	as everything packed in the chest is unpacked; ...

	Life is either looking down on a curve of trees, 
	a bread van, wet streets, people hurrying, 
	or across the midsummer horizon and sky 
	where a black-headed gull, 
	solidly large at this level, 
	is excreting its blessing while turning.
Redbeck Press have produced yet another beautifully designed small book that serves this talented writer well. Bob Cooper is definitely not running on empty.

reviewer: Michael Bangerter.

Twenty one poems with geographical clues that clearly point to a writer who knows Newcastle well. The poems are deceptively open but each brings to the light the hidden secrets of ordinary and not-so-ordinary people. It is this revealing of the hidden, the stripping of layers of deception that make the title apt. The title poem ALL WE KNOW IS WHAT WE SEE sets the tone for the whole book. Particularly poignant is THE TROUBLE WITH CAROL who carries the sense of absurdity and falsity of life around through a hard life until

	...she knows if she doesn't walk away quickly it will come out,
	unrestrained, unbelievably loud.
Cooper's poetry is written with the ease of someone at home with the natural rhythms of speech but who is also able to dig under people's outer shell to reveal not only their own character but the underlying determination and resilience of the people of the north east.

reviewer: Polly Bird.

Bob Cooper's new collection, ALL WE KNOW IS ALL WE SEE, is a treat for devotees of his work, and a revelation for those who, like myself, have not come across his poems before. As a first time reader, what I really relished here was the economy of words, and the power of the poet's imagery. The poems that struck me as being the most memorable were contained in the sonnet sequence THE WET CHILD, which is subtitled Following Wordsworth with a series of 34 poems along the River Duddon. Following Wordsworth anywhere is, in my book, always a poetic risk, as is calling him by the familiar name Willie. Yet it is a risk that, in this instance, Cooper pulls off with aplomb. In his journey along the River Duddon, Cooper encounters backpackers, arguing couples, climbers, publicans, families, the ghost of Wordsworth himself, and Wordsworth's child of the clouds, the Wet Child of the sequence's title. Lines such as:

	the Duddon makes its river sounds once more
	and leaves applaud his performance, loudly
recall Wordsworth's own precision. Cooper's strength as a sonnet writer, it seems to me, comes from his balance of the lyrical and the mundane. These qualities can also be perceived outside his sonnet sequence, in poems such as WHEN BIG STEVE SPENT IT LIKE WATER and ON THE NEWCASTLE METRO. Here the interplay of everyday experience and the beauty of the natural world mean that faces on the underground
	crowd out,
	like pollen
This balancing of the hard-edged with the lyrical is one of Cooper's greatest strengths, as is the memorable title, or exactly recalled turn of phrase.

In poems such as YES, Cooper's detailed descriptions of natural phenomena are reminiscent of Ted Hughes, but also of the American poet, Galway Kinnell. Indeed, the opening lines of the poem put me in mind of the opening of Galway Kinnell's THE BEAR. In YES, Cooper transforms the landscape by making the sun reminiscent of a dying animal:

	So quietly, like an old mammal dying in winter,
	the blood orange sun bled for us again last night.
I found openings such as this to be both precise and transforming, demonstrating what Michael Schmidt has termed the real weather of the poem. ALL WE KNOW IS ALL WE SEE, is an inventive book that changes, and challenges the reader with each new section. Beginning with poems about climbing (reminiscent of work by the Leicestershire poet. Mark Goodwin), and then moving on to the sonnet sequence mentioned above, allows Cooper to demonstrate the flexibility of his work.

In short, this is a well written, and nicely structured volume, that re-pays reading. Finally, it is interesting to note that the experience of rock climbing seems to be proving a fertile ground for poets, from Mark Goodwin in Leicestershire, to Cooper in many landscapes, including the Highlands and the Lake District. This volume in particular benefits from a sense of the real outdoors, and the exact textures of place.

reviewer: Deborah Tyler-Bennett.