Book Review

POETRY MONTH: Waiting Room by Poppy Cockburn

powerful, direct, dignified poems

cw: assault, suicide ideation, mental illness

This 2021 pamphlet from the relatively new London-based indie, Invisible Hand Press (is the name a pro-capitalist libertarian reference?), is a powerful and potent selection of poetry that depicts and explores lots of pain, as well as fleeting moments of joy.

I’d describe Waiting Room as serious, and I mean that as a compliment, though sometimes I wouldn’t. I mean, here, that the seriousness comes from the content, rather than from its form.

This is serious poetry in that it’s unafraid to reference and allude to weighty, messy and upsetting realities and experiences, I don’t mean it’s “serious poetry” as in to read it you need to be next to a dictionary, Google Translate and heavily-annotated translations of all the canonical classical texts.

This is serious poetry in that it discusses the repercussions and damage of violent assault, and shows and dissects the cloying reliance many of us have on the use of humour as a way to absolve ourselves of responsible and conciliatory explorations of human experience.

This is poetry that happens in dark, unknown, places, that happens in the overbright strip lighting of hospitals, in the back-lit corners of our phones behind the screen-captured messages we should never have sent.

This is not poetry limited by pretence or propriety, this is not poetry that lacks emotion or connection, and though there is humour and there are moments of wit, the overall tone is… (((I don’t know if this is the right word but it seems appropriate rn))) the overall tone is dignified.

By exploring the way in which joking about something can function as a negation of self-responsibility, it felt to me as if there was almost an emotional manifesto included within these pages, that Cockburn is arguing the imperative to take ourselves – comprising our thoughts and the bad things and the pleasures we experience – seriously.

I think dignity is the right word here…

I think a failure to see ourselves as human is something that’s very easy to do in poetry, as it is in life.

It’s very common for comedians to joke about how bad life experience gives them material, but as poets we do that too, and except for a very small unrepresentative percentage, that use of the material isn’t something that… y’know… pays the bills.

Successful comedians use grief and heartbreak and illness and accident to furnish themselves with – sometimes incredibly lucrative – careers, but as poets -and most of us who are poets are poets in the hours around which we are [economically] “productive” – putting our suffering and our pain onto the page, to be read by a handful of people, doesn’t make the pain go away, but it… also… does help, y’know? Sort of???

I don’t know where I’m going with this one.

Sorry.

I’m in a pretty bad place, personally, y’know…

I’m writing two or three blogs every day at the moment, I’m slowly applying for jobs in a city I don’t want to be in, I’m not engaged enough within my own existence to be writing anything, I’m bored by my own thoughts and my own opinions, and I… don’t… know…

Maybe I shouldn’t be poisoning my blog with my own apathy, but I don’t really care about anything at the moment.

I think I’m too bored to even be suicidal at the moment.

I don’t care enough about myself to do anything to release myself from me.

I’m sure the apathy would translate into another botched attempt, y’know.

I’d make the noose too loose.

I’d miss the artery.

I’d underdose the overdose.

I just don’t care about myself very much, I just feel again like I’m in a waiting room (like the name of the text this post is ostensibly about), y’know…

I feel like my day-to-day life is a caesura before something more interesting happens at a later date, but I’ve got absolutely no guarantee of that and I’m not doing anything proactively to make that happen.

///

Ahem.

Poetry can and should be serious, just as it can and should be silly.

Almost every way we have of expressing ourselves is – can be – both suitable and unsuitable (I suppose?) for its intended usage. 

///

In Cockburn’s pamphlet there’s a lot of viscerality, a lot of imagery.

A lot of use of colour, of scent, of sensual descriptions, and this is something I feel maybe hasn’t necessarily been there in the rest of the poetry I’ve been looking at this month. Has description become unfashionable in poetry?

The way in which Cockburn evokes the world, its kaleidoscopic mixture of pleasure and pain, of nuance and subtlety and contradiction and blunt dialectical experiences, is far more reflective of the world as it is than writing that seeks to feel only as if it’s somewhere in the thought-having consciousness of the mind.

This is poetry with great force behind it, with a potency of intention.

This is far more wise than a lot of the things I’ve been reading.

Cockburn’s writing is the kind of writing that in a different era would have been described as “confrontational”, but that isn’t what it is at all.

Waiting Room offers poetry that is direct, that is discursive and that is an accurate depiction of life as it feels.

It’s really great stuff, and I will definitely read more of Cockburn’s writing soon.

Order Waiting Room direct from Invisible Hand Press here

September 19th, 2022

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