The Return is Eleanor Cooke's first full length collection since The Secret Files (Jonathan Cape, 1994) a book-length narrative sequence that re-told The Annunciation as part feminist myth, part circus fantasy, and sold out in weeks. These new poems take the reader once again into the heart of gothic folk-narrative, direct, sensual, and supernatural; but this time it's all true.
Eleanor Cooke’s poetry, whether lamenting a lost wilderness or re-writing the story of the Annunciation, has always been dense with allusion, apocrypha and an almost pagan celebration of the living spirit in all nature. The Return is the story of the poet’s own return to the home village where she has lived most of her life, to a sense of connectedness, a multi-layering of the past and present that creates a complex route-map of the soul, memories and visions of old love surfacing out of the landscape itself, along with visitations from the living and the dead. This is the collection that finally brings together the poet’s characteristic direct physicality with a sense of place in a rich and intensely personal narrative.
Starting with the story of the return itself, the collection travels through time, charting the loss of innocence, of youth, of time itself, and ending through a trick of time-travel, in a narrative sequence that sees the ghost of William Blake wandering the streets of contemporary London in the company of a Baglady no less visceral than himself. The inhabitants of these poems, like the ancient heroes of ballads and folktales, can bear any amount of reality, gathering up the parallel worlds of the ancient gods and the land itself, the present and the past, like the scraps of history and belief the Baglady carries through the streets, conversing with the ever-present dead.
‘There is an exhilaration in the sheer economy with which Eleanor Cooke achieves her effects, the language plain and down to earth but always quick with the pulse of lyric, the register contemporary but cut back to essentials so that the voices of William Blake, or of Saint Godric, the first lyric poet in English, can break through like suppressed energies. For all their playfulness, these are searching poems, rooted in the tradition but finely attuned to the absences and uncertainties in the culture.’ —Roger Garfitt
‘These poems are about absence, about presence – poems that explore transgressive energies, sudden shifts of perception, qualified epiphanies – in language that is spontaneous, sparkling with energy and insight.’ —Penelope Shuttle