Elaine Cosgrove, Transmissions (Dedalus, £10.00).
Elaine Cosgrove’s debut collection of poems, Transmissions, is inviting and full of intrigue. Touching on the front cover of her collection, it is natural that Cosgrove’s first poem begins with an image of cities and a Motorway, as her cover paints quite the abstract picture of a night skyline.‘We pass / small towns, big cities, and the immeasurable world, as sure, as / changeable, / as the scenes that swiftly pass these windows, riding the / (seemingly) direct motorway’; her rhythm is fluent and definitive in bringing words such as cities and scenes, immeasurable and changeable and swiftly and seemingly together.
I thoroughly enjoyed this theme of the city and how humans interact with the modern city around them. Endless sums this theme up: ‘We become electric / On and off beings flowing / again and again, / endless in this sudden / glittering world of interruptions’. Cosgrove has this ability to take a single image and give it (embrace the pun) endless meanings. Where I interpret this line as an observation of the growing effect of social media upon the world, another may understand it differently; it’s well done, and a beautiful beginning to her debut collection.
Cosgrove moves between what is mild and what is of more seriousness effortlessly within her poems Lime and Afterglow. Lime exemplifies that which is fun and carefree; ‘Lime is a bad decision tank top, / leg warmers and Grunger tee’. The light-hearted and comical tone of the speaker complements Cosgrove’s anaphoric repetition well. Night Bus with Headphones does this particularly well also, but is rather altered by a mysterious tone. Afterglow‘s strong, universal message is embedded in lines which follow the life of a bee: ‘They’re dressing up for death… / Too see faces of them burning back into life, / day after day, / was afterglow – magnificent’. The near elegiac form which Cosgrove uses to articulate this crisis of bees ‘dying / without pollination’ grips the reader as if this is personal, because it is, and she makes it known.
Spine Breaker would be a favourite for anyone who knows that their book shelf is filled with only books that have cracked backs; ‘It’s better, I think, to look like you’ve been enjoyed, / rather than kept for the mint condition’. Of course, there is another message at play beneath the surface, and it is thoroughly enjoyable to see Cosgrove explore this narrative of a poem within a poem. In Visitor the speaker describes, ‘this woman’s graceful expression is so damn luminous… / you know from her very gait, she is one who devotes / her whole being, whole life, to the pursuit of kindness’. It is this casual situation which Cosgrove beautifies with a mere string of the right words, which invokes this feeling of anticipation, and excitement, in her readers.
A poet’s best work might be said to be done when a variety of readers can relate to the exact situation which is being relayed to us by the poet. In Cosgrove’s case, a poem which struck an individual chord was The Crossing. In its raw simplicity, the words really do speak for themselves, ‘warm sand, hands scooping / it up thanking Allah for their luck. Each drew a breath before the next chapter – and us, the far away, swiped / tearful eyes knowing what waited for them further inland’. It is a short poem, consisting of three tercets, but extremely powerful. It is having immigrant parents, the image of an ‘orange lifejacket’, and the desperation this poem exudes which urged me to want to know more about ‘Lesbos’ and the current refugee crisis.
We have a responsibility as writers to make our readers want to know more, to seek what lies behind these words and act upon them: we must write to prompt action, to give rise to magnificent ideas that will impact this world for the better. We need to use this knowledge to inspire and empower one another, and this is exactly what Elaine Cosgrove does in her debut collection, Transmissions.