Friday Poem – ‘Peeling the Skin’ by Carolyn Jess-Cooke


This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Peeling the Skin’ by Carolyn Jess-Cooke from her collection We Have to Leave the Earth. You can hear Carolyn chatting about the book on the The Seren Poetry Podcast which is available now on all podcast platforms.

This cover shows a photograph of a tangled ball of blue fishing line in relief against a pale pink and blue background. The text reads: We Have to Leave the Earth. Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s third collection We Have to Leave the Earth deftly interweaves the personal and the political. Climate change is confronted in a sequence about the Arctic; poems that are vividly descriptive of an extreme landscape, sensitive to the effects of global warming. A second sequence, The House of Rest, is a history in 9 poems of Josephine Butler, (1828-1906) a pioneering feminist activist. There are also tender poems about family, mental health, motherhood and the earth.

Peeling the Skin
They’d try to find the hem first,
the beginning of that lace-fine calyx that
sometimes ran deliciously
from shoulder to waist in a continuum
of cells shucked by too long
in the burning glare. No one thought to rub
in sun cream, it seems, for each summer
my lunar Irish epidermis crisped
from salmon to magenta before flaking
off great silvery coats and blankets,
milky curtains, pearl bodices.
The confetti of my childhood lies in corners
of Connemara, the sands of
Donegal, bearing traces of fingers
that picked me to riddance. I’d hear
the sellotape-tear
of strips they’d peel from my back
and I felt like something being primed for the spit,
or dressed for the rite. Sometimes
they’d shear
what wasn’t ready for shearing, and blood would globe
at the new rind that knitted under the husk.
I think it was this small breach, this
being pared in pain
for others’ pleasure, that taught me where DNA ended and
I
begin, and begin, and begin.

The Seren Poetry Podcast is a new series of in-depth interviews with Seren poets. Episode 5 with Carolyn Jess-Cooke is available to listen to now.

Simply search ‘The Seren Poetry Podcast’ in your favourite podcast app and follow or subscribe to have all future editions delivered straight to your podcast feed. Available on all platforms including Apple PodcastsSpotify and Google Podcasts. Don’t forget to leave us a review if you like what you hear.

We Have to Leave the Earth is available on the Seren website for £9.99

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