It is extremely difficult to write a good new poem about the natural world. So many of the best writers in the language have applied themselves to the subject so triumphantly that the challenge of writing a fresh piece seems almost insurmountable. What I loved about Annemarie Cooper’s poem, January, is that she accepted the challenge and produced such an effective, compelling piece. We are used to verbal foxes – but not to the one which opens this poem. ‘Orange on mud, a fox’ – not a word wasted, not a sentimental moment, just a ‘beast’ completely there.
The courage of the writing in this poem continues throughout. I loved being told that the January wood ‘feels fit and well, life-full’ and that the strength of the winter trees is revealed ‘in sleep.’ This poem is really looking hard at the world and recording exactly what it sees without straining for effect, without flounce. The ‘crazy leftovers’ of burr bushes. The ‘rubbery yellow gills on sodden logs.’ January seems to leave things to speak out their own vivid beings almost artlessly so that when we are given the much more formal closing comparison, we still have the imaginative capacity to be startled. We realise that the real power of the poem was being held in check so that this final couplet could leap into life and live in memory.
When the sun arrives black branches gleam / like iron fenders polished hard enough to sing
Annemarie Cooper is travelling down from London to read January on the Competition Afternoon on 26th September 2015.