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September 21, 2009 | by  | in Books |
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Pocket Edition

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Geoff Cochrane’s Pocket Edition is a slim volume that covers a great deal of ground, and the empty bookcase on its cover belies a broad array of influences.

The narrative voice is at its most involved when recalling the poet’s past, whether the memories be of death, “His wet soul winked and steamed/ like jellied blood”; of alcoholism, “It drugged me with its druggiest of sweets”; or of satisfaction at a labouring job well done, “I’d feel a pleasant muscular fatigue,/ the hairs on my arms would seem more numerous.

In describing the present, the narrative voice is more detached and melancholy, refecting on ageing: “one becomes the vessel of an odourless boredom/ and sex, or one’s imagining of sex/ somehow detumesces. Becomes dilute, diffuse.

The poet’s personal reflections are always to be seen in a much broader context. There are glimpses of family history—his grandfather (“Percy in his puttees and lemon squeezer”) visits the ancestral home in Scotland, where he cannot bring himself to approach the house. Recent history and current events play a role, but what really puts the poet’s experience in perspective is the historical view back to antiquity, which produces the earthy and humorous dialogue between the motorcyle-riding Jason and Medea at Jorge’s Bar & Grill in ‘JASON SADDLES UP’, or a modified version of ancient philosophies which stands in place of religious solace in ‘LOOKING BACK TO ANTIQUITY’: “The limy light of a feeble Calvary./ I find I like the pudent Greek idea: you reach the age of sixty,/ you throw the little party,/ you drink the hemlock.

Cochrane’s humour is sometimes gentle, often earthy, usually melancholy. The most elegant note is perhaps his reflection on a half-forgotten love affair: “I don’t remember buying this espresso./ I don’t remember last night’s television. I don’t remember Troy/ nor the first dynamo/ nor the first use of ether in dentistry… As well as all of which I‘m struggling to recall that winter with Celeste in her bed above the harbour,/ the ships like chandeliers/ parked beneath her window.

The collection is carefully arranged. Early on are statements of poetic intent: “I prefer the short to the long,/ the minor to the major, Bartleby to Moby Dick, A Portrait of the Artist to Ulysses”, and a nod to the eclectic range of influences upon which the poems draw: “My talismans include/ a varnished wooden Buddha,/ unfingered rosary beads,/ salt-and-pepper shakers/ all the way rom Goa./ Every man is his own religion.” The second poem involves a subtle parody of another famous Pocket Edition, the ‘Little Book’ (libellus) of the Roman poet, Catullus of Verona. Catullus’ second poem is a witty compliment to his beloved, adressed to her pet sparrow, though the tone is lowered here, as “An unsleek sparrow beaks its itchy armpit.

Pocket Edition rewards reading and re-reading, and while its tone and content are occasionally rough or dismal, Cochrane’s careful craftsmanship and varied, often black humour make for a rich reading experience.

Pocket Edition
By Geoff Cochrane (Janet Frame Poetry Award 2009)
Victoria University Press

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