Poetry Blog by David Cooke (2017)

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At Varykino

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You insist upon living till the life you’d live
has damned you, your intransigence
forcing you on like a train that pounds
its rhythms across some hard white terrain.

Adulterous and anachronistic, a stubborn
glow illuminates your doomed affair
as when, like a ghost reborn, Strelnikov
told you: The private life is dead,

his rectitude a new kind of purity
whose thought is doctrinaire,

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There’s another city inside the city. It lays

its template of odours across postal districts. 


One day, perhaps, you’ll sense it

beneath your speed: a faint hint of fox piss


that clings to street lamps and bollards.

Leaving its marker, it establishes different laws.


Beneath our fences there are badger setts

and mole runs, scrabbling polities


obscured by ...

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Towards Galle

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Taking the coastal road to the fortress town

of Galle, we embarked on the desultory epic

of an island barely at peace with itself

in one more uncertain truce, driving

past ramshackle backpackers’ beaches

and sealed-off compounds of luxury hotels,

where locals glimpse at the kind of leisure

only imported money acquires.


And how unassumingly they accept

unremarkable d...

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Casa Batlló

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From across the crowded passeig

your eye is drawn to the shimmer

of its otherworldly façade,

its bits and bobs of broken tiles

washed by tides of light.


Its carnivalesque balconies

and freewheeling contours

are like the feckless dreams

of those who have no need to prosper

by hard graft or deals.


Incongruous, then, the way

it rises from this city’s


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For Antoinette

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On a wet afternoon in Wetherspoon’s

I came across her: gazing intently,

like a survivor from some belle époque

into the mirror of her make-up box;

and making herself presentable

for a night out and its chances,

she applied eye shadow and liner

with a practised hand, then blended

a blusher to the natural tint of her skin.

From time to time she paused,

deflating the ba...

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Mill Girl

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after Willi Ronis


In the quietness between

before and after, the girl

unspools her broken thread,

addressing the problem

of time she has lost.


Abstracted, briefly,

from her routine,

her posture is that

of a handmaid or lover

bestowing an intimate gift.


Yet kneeling there,

on her own, she is like

an ingénue, taking in

some visitant’s


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Prickly Pear

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A shabby and uncherishable growth,

it is at first unrecognised and scarcely noticed

as you make a roadside halt, your visitor’s eye

lured by distant iconic vistas. And so,


inveigled always beyond the details,

you appraise each photo op, framing,

say, the Silent City raised up against the sky

on self-absorbed strategic heights;


or lose yourself in contemplation,


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Le Petit Parisien, 1952

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after Willi Ronis


A small boy running, but not for his life,

as all can see in his fearless smile

and the sense of freedom


that lights his eyes. This is the day

he will always remember,

important only because of an errand


and the small coin he didn’t drop,

holding it up on tiptoes

across the counter of a baker’s shop,


disregarding for once

the g...

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Last orders

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The first thing we had to clear was the one

he prized the most: the cluttered pinewood bar

he’d salvaged from a neighbour moving on

at the end of the nineteen seventies.


Embalmed in a gloopy coat of varnish

that set to a brittle sheen, it lacked retro chic,

scuffed down to the wood along its edges,

its surface crazed with memories.


In the days when family came to ...

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The Way Art Pepper Tells It

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In San Quentin prison the psychos,

thieves and junkies exchange

desolate tales, and each one’s

a variation on a theme

that ends the same. Breathing in

and breathing out

to keep his panic at bay,

the man with the sax

is no exception, but tells his

in a different way.

Reinventing where he’s been,

one shimmering note

at a time, the way ahead’s unclear.

Stuck wit...

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