emily cooke

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Emily Cooke is a proper Northern poet with proper Northern words, but she's also so much more than that - blending fierce Northern womanhood with a stark understanding of societal roles and the issues facing people and family units today, her work explores the nature of relationships, interactions, identity, surroundings and more, all delivered with a dose of Northern clout and a strong accent.

You can catch her in performance at one of Manchesters many open mic events, and her first chapbook, Shadow Puppets, is arriving later this year. We sat down with her for a discussion...

Can you describe your work in five words?
 

  • Honest

  • Generous

  • Unflinching

  • Bit weird

Your upcoming chapbook is called Shadow Puppets. Can you give us the story behind its name?

Shadow Puppets is the name of my favourite poem in the collection. The poem is all about sitting with someone who has no memory of you left, and what it means to just be in someone else’s company without expecting anything in return. The time together can still be beautiful; rather than having to remember faces and names and stories together, you can sit and make “shadow puppets” on the walls, no strings attached.

The book as a whole explores memory, nostalgia and connection through the lens of dealing with family members with dementia. It’s been interesting to explore both what it means to be forgotten by people who love you, and what is left behind; Shadow Puppets seemed a good image for this and a good name for the chapbook.

What kind of poetry do you write?

It’s pretty personal. I have tried to write about events or artworks like Proper Good Poets do, but find that the stuff that comes easiest is the deeply personal. Anything to do with bodies, or emotions, or memory, often through the lens of being a Mum to two girls.  Some of it is a bit surreal. I am a keen environmentalist and love to explore the more-than-human worlds that exist around us. I’m not very good at “nature-writing” in general because I think it mostly speaks for itself, but I do love writing about the connections that exist between us and other living things. 

For me, in the absolute chaos that is the world right now, poetry is about finding the truth, which is always a messy business. I love the freedom of poetry to explore hard things from many angles. 

 

Do you have any significant influences on your writing?

Christ, so so many. 

Patti Smith is a big one; I love the way she blends poetry, music and memoir writing and doesn’t pigeon-hole herself. That style of doing things very much appeals to me.

Music-wise, I love The National and think Matt Berninger is an absolute lyrical genius. Ditto Adrienne Lenker from Big Thief. I suspect Bob Dylan is wedged firmly in my subconscious as my Dad is obsessed and took me to his concerts (and a fair few fan conventions!).

I love how Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry write about the natural world and what it feels like to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Hollie McNish is wonderful and I absolutely devoured her book of essays and poems “Slug” recently. 

I’m a big newsletter fan and love the writings of Maria Popova and Suleika Jaouad.

Which poem do you wish you had written?

Honestly, I wish I had something slightly less cliché, but Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese is just stunning. You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves. OOF!

 


You are an active part of the Manchester poetry scene – what is the best part of being involved in this scene?

I’d love to be more active, but two kids at home means that I can’t really get to as many nights as I would like! It’s fab though. So welcoming, and there’s such a strong community building up right now. All the best things come out of creating a scene, and I love going to nights like Verbose, Switchblade and Just Stories and being influenced by people who have been at this a lot longer than me.

What led you to poetry over other forms of art and expression?

 

I have performed music for many years and have always loved playing around with words and rhythm but I only started writing poetry properly in January 2020. I had been ill and off work for nearly a year  with Long Covid and was slowly managing to read and write again after being confined to bed for a few months, then confined to the house for many more.

 

My friend shared a 30-day writing challenge run by poet Jo Bell, and that’s where I started. I still wasn’t very well and was having to make sure I sat for a half an hour or so after each mundane task (making lunch for the kids needed about 1 hour of complete silent resting time afterwards to recover!). Around 3pm each day, I crashed and put the kids on screens for a couple of hours to make sure I could get through to tea time. I started to write in this very quiet time and poetry became such a joyful thing to explore. I had very bad brain fog and cognition, but could manage to read a poem. I needed a way to explore what had happened to us all during the pandemic, and more specifically, what had happened to my body; poetry offered itself up as the perfect creative format for this.

Women are having a moment in the spoken word scene right now – are there any female poets we should keep our eyes on in the future?

 

Ooh tricky one, as I say, I don’t get out as much as I would like! Absolutely love fellow Bent Key poet Romina Ramos’ poems about belonging and identity and Lisa O'Hare is wonderful., love the way she uses Instagram to share her poems and details of opportunities via her Community Poetry Officer page.

 

 

What’s your idea of a decent night out?

 

I love a good gig, with a pint of cider beforehand of course. Although, more often these days it’s something outdoors and less hectic; a cold-water dip followed by brews and chocolate cake with my gorgeous wild swimming group, or a campfire with friends in our local woods!

 

 

What can we expect from an Emily Cooke collection of poems?

 

An honest look at things- a bit dark but hopefully with a light enough touch to not be up its own arse! 
 

Shadow Puppets arrives later this year