cover image is ‘beehive’ by Thirza Schaap (2017)

published 18th October 2021

We Have To Leave The Earth is Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s third collection and features a tripart collection of poems on interlocking themes.  The initial piece in the book, ‘Now’ points to a single point in history and makes a family portrait of what is glimpsed in a round mirror. As a mother, Jess-Cooke is keenly aware that her children will inherit the earth that we leave them and that our ecosystem is in grave danger. The first third of the book is ‘Songs for the Arctic’ and looks closely at the ice-landscapes being eroded by climate change. Their beauty contains a dark premonition of the future of our planet once these grand seas of ice melt. The poems are written in short, declarative lines, their rhythms echo Norse myth and arrive in single syllables, as in history poem ‘The Edge of the Known World’: “what hunger drove them to survive the cold and the dark.”

The second section deals with more personal themes, a daughter who is diagnosed with Autism and whose future is therefore also in peril, yet who seemingly transcends the flat terms of a diagnosis and displays more imagination than authorities expect, inventing a ‘craze’ amongst her friends for an imaginary fish-friend. Such glimmerings of essential hope appear often in this passionately serious, darkly glittering collection. They are ‘Birdsong for a Breakdown’. 

A third part of the book is a nine-poem series that is a portrait of a Victorian activist, Josephine Butler, who, after the death of a daughter, is galvanised to campaign for public causes and to have a brutal law that allowed intimate examination of girls and women who were suspected of venereal disease struck from the books. It is a history of courage and compassion in the face of much establishment resistance. 

We Need To Leave the Earth is a beautifully moving collection of poems: thoughtful, topical, and expertly composed. 

“Heartwrenching. They flinch and unflinch like Northern Lights – fierce and very beautiful – these flexings of the human spirit above a raw and changing world.”  – Jen Hadfield

“Carolyn Jess-Cooke, whose gifts were apparent in her previous two collections, is at her best in We Have To Leave The Earth. Four distinct projects are constructed with imagination, clarity, tenderness, melody and skill. The poet’s deeply curious mind resists hierarchy: the personal is political, historical, environmental and cosmic. The Arctic sequence has the distilled imagistic sensibility of Lorine Niedecker; and is, for those of us who will never journey there, a means of travel and comprehension. Whether her subject is feminism, ecology, star systems, parenthood or disability, Jess-Cooke offers a kind of ‘translation’ or ekphrasis that she – with her generous perceptions and crystalline writing – is uniquely equipped for.”  – Kathryn Maris