If there’s one theme that permeates Emily Cooper’s debut poetry collection Glass, writes James Patterson, it’s the question of ownership. Who owns what and to what extent are we are allowed to take ownership of the different narratives and identities that shape our lives?
By beginning on this premise, Cooper is able to weave between big ideas about nationhood, gender disparity, the value of art, love, and family with a deftness of touch that calls to mind the lyric intensity of Eavan Boland.
This is a book of friends, warm and inviting as a discussion round the dinner table. But Cooper is careful not to be proscriptive in her approach. Rather, she allows her guests at the table space to be discursive, with her narratives ultimately circling back to the domestic space and the world observed empirically through the lyric ‘I’. Here’s what she had to say.
You’ve had quite the itinerant life growing up and I think it would be fair to say that this has influenced your writing. Were you conscious of this when you were writing Glass and, if so, how do you think it has shaped your approach?
I have no idea how many different places I’ve lived in. From my early twenties I developed a habit of running away. I think the first running away was to Greece when I was twenty-one, though I suppose I had already moved to Glasgow for university before then, but that felt more sanctioned than Greece did. I went to Corfu to work on a horse farm run by a woman who rescued (or hoarded) animals, the same woman who appears in the poem The Greek Owls. While I was there I had a kind of epiphany walking down the road to the shop. It was a moment of clarity, of pure understanding and acceptance of who I am or was at that exact point. As I got older and carried on this habit of running away to work in France and Portugal and back again many times to Greece, I found I was able to reset myself.
This reconfiguring worked to varying degrees and definitely wasn’t permanent, but it allowed me to be comfortable in a variety of settings. Though not necessarily conscious, I think those different lives are present in the poems of Glass. I feel like I require a huge amount of life consumption in order to produce relatively small pieces of work. Months spent in a place can end up condensed into a single short poem. I am often amazed by poets who spend their whole lives in the same place but I think they must be much more efficient than I am. I need the change and stimulation to churn up content.