I’ll have to start with the title which must be one of the most beautiful and most inspired titles ever. I am totally in love with this word and in fact suffer badly from title-sickness over it. But I’d never be able to breathe it in the way Rose could and I can imagine her saying it in her Rose-voice, giving everyone a shiver of tingly feelings. And then there’s the matter of the cover which is stunning. The book is ‘dedicated to Brigid, Goddess of Hearth and Poetry, and to my mother, along with all who tend the fire’.
And the poems? Well, I don’t know what to say because they all give me goose pimples and it’s hard to be articulate about something that does that. Rose has a way of writing about personal experiences in a totally unsentimental way, while being characteristically frank. By employing simple but precise language each poem pierces your heart. She writes about motherhood, her son’s fall, her grief for the loss of her own mother presented through everyday actions like folding sheets, seasons, plants and wild creatures (in particular hares) and all are bound together by her distinctively observant eye, her compassion.
I think it’s her acceptance of life’s precariousness and what our bodies know about us that is a strong binding thread. She actually celebrates it as in this poem (and in many others):
How Close to Breaking
You were walking the promenade towards me,
carrying a ball and smiling.
Grief lurched in to my heart, spreading like a bruise
so the dark cloud of starlings dancing
and the collapsed ballroom on the pier
and the punk strutting with his mouth studs
and cockerel hair glued into peaks
and the shepherd’s delight sunset
all swam round our heads
and did not take the sadness away.
It is our fragility
how close to breaking we must live.
To me, it is the direction posed by the word ‘so’ in line 4 and the last ‘and’ in line 10 (as in ‘and did not take the sadness away’0 that so deftly complicates this poem and makes you think. So simply done and very powerful.
I think some of Rose’s poems have the clarity of photography in which she is also expert. You can see Rose’s actual photographs here but there are lots of others ( surreal, ordinary and strange) there to meditate on as well. This tiny vignette comes from Wash Day where you’ll see what I mean about emotion being rooted in everyday detail and being so very visual:
‘Our shirts flutter like prayer flags,
clean as snowdrops, as new beginnings.
Tea, she says, let’s have tea.’
I’ll just quote Rosie Jackson (author of the wondrous The Light Box) who wrote this about Hearth:
‘These are numinous poems which register human fragility, yet their awareness of ‘how close to breaking we must live’ serves to strengthen their grateful celebration of life, with its moments of human tenderness and natural beauty. Deeply felt portraits of the landscape – owls, hares, egrets, rain, sea, cherry trees – along with simple acts like folding sheets, or a daughter’s visit, drop us into ‘a marvellous time’, an ‘under-dream of existence’ and become vehicles for light and awakening. Rose Cook’s ‘glimpse through’ the world makes Hearth a sensitive, haunting collection, and reminds us of our soul’s priorities.’
Yes, it’s Rose’s understanding of the ‘under-dream of existence’ that marks this book as very, very special. I myself couldn’t be without it.
To end, I’d like to thank Rose for being another of the elephant poets and her poem, Elephant was the start of the Poetry of Elephants anthology. She had two in the book and the other is no less wonderful. Hearing her read this musical poem slowly and thoughtfully is magic:
I am slow.
I am sway.
I am echo.
The great earth holds me.
I am ship. I am flow.
My bones are of whales.
I am large and grateful. I move with no hurry.
There is time. We have time.
Watch my eye. With it I see you and the shine of colour,
which fills me till my grey skin rustles.
I know there is an always happiness here
even in the mud. The frog knows.
We will go in procession.
Follow and feel the rhythm of my walk.
My steps sway you,
I will rock you to beyond yourself.
Be more than you have ever been.
Be what you have always been.
Be with me.
Be with me.
Follow. Follow me.