Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection is both keenly political and deeply personal. The opening poem ‘now’ features a seemingly peaceful domestic scene of a family lounging at home as the starting point for meditation on history, time, mortality and the fate of the planet: I think of what tomorrow asks and what is yet/ to be done and undone, how many nows make up a life/ and what is living. There are hints of a struggle with depression stemming from a difficult childhood. There is a cherished child diagnosed with autism. There are two sequences: Songs for the Arctic, inspired by field work done for the Arctic at the Thought Foundation, poems that are vividly descriptive of an extreme landscape, aware of the fraught history of exploration and sensitive to the way changes in the pack ice are the most significant indicators of man-made global warming. The other sequence, The House of Rest, is a history in nine poems of Josephine Butler (1828-1906), who pioneered feminist activism, and helped to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act 1869, which facilitated sexual violence in the name of disease prevention. Jess-Cooke is unafraid of dark material but is also ultimately hopeful and full of creative strategies to meet challenging times.
“Heartwrenching. They flinch and unflinch like Northern Lights – fierce and very beautiful – these flexings of the human spirit above a raw and changing world.” – Jen Hadfield
“Carolyn Jess-Cooke, whose gifts were apparent in her previous two collections, is at her best in We Have To Leave The Earth. Four distinct projects are constructed with imagination, clarity, tenderness, melody and skill. The poet’s deeply curious mind resists hierarchy: the personal is political, historical, environmental and cosmic. The Arctic sequence has the distilled imagistic sensibility of Lorine Niedecker; and is, for those of us who will never journey there, a means of travel and comprehension. Whether her subject is feminism, ecology, star systems, parenthood or disability, Jess-Cooke offers a kind of ‘translation’ or ekphrasis that she - with her generous perceptions and crystalline writing - is uniquely equipped for.” – Kathryn Maris