Stanley Cook

Stanley Cook

Stanley Cook (1922-1991) was much admired in his lifetime but he never achieved the popular audience and critical reputation his work deserved. Cook went his own way, sanguine about the fashions of the poetry establishment, and quietly writing some of the most readable, intelligent and vividly achieved poems of our time.

Read Stanley Cook on The Prospect Poem from North 10, online at the Poetry Library.


How’s this for a poetic description of one of the kids in your class at school: “Unhealthily pale as if he were grown indoors/or underneath a brick that excluded the sun” ?

Or this, for a likeness of one of your old teachers: “His fading youth was underlined by wrinkles/and floodlit by the sporty shirts he wore”? Yes, we’ve sat with lads like that in assembly and been taught by the bloke who “maintained his ideals in a mild-mannered way/that only invited opposition”.

Those exact and lyrical descriptions are from poems by Stanley Cook, one of Yorkshire’s unsung writers who died 20 years ago this year and whose reputation is well-worth reviving in preparation for the 90th anniversary of his birth next year.

— Ian McMillan, Yorkshire Post (read the rest of the article here)

‘Stanley Cook was an exemplary, compassionate, unsentimental poet of Yorkshire. His work is solid and warm with a distinctive local and universal humanity. ‘Woods beyond a Cornfield’, the title poem which runs to over 600 lines, is his masterpiece - complicated, emotionally bruising, and, like all his work, robust, questing, darting into beautiful, mysterious images.’ — Douglas Dunn


Here in the North, often at the end
Of an uphill road the houses open out
To a view, like finding a hole in the roof.
Some attic or chimney pot is silhouetted
Marking the final foothold on the sky.
The wind combs out grey tugs of cloud
And as the threatened snow descends,
Blanking the view, sometimes you hear yourself
Resume for a word or two the conversation
That ended unhappily years ago
And whose unhappiness you know you had better bear.



Autumn is easy, when disappointed leaves make scenes
At parting for ever from perennial boughs,
When naked laburnums in small front gardens pose
Their glistening limbs obliquely in the chilly rain.
Summer, too beautiful to appreciate,
Prints many yellow copies of defeat;
The brown sensations blow about the street
Or, thrown away by the wind, obstruct the grates.
But most in the earlier evenings someone's face
Flares for a moment at a match, or the lamplight
Cleans the darkness from a smudgy bough:
It is myself, and the mind descends like night
With infinite possibilities of truth
Upon the terraces that have taken place.



The sky stops crying and in a sudden smile
Of childish sunshine the rain steams on the roofs;
Widow who has married widower
Poses outside the Registry for photographs. 

Their grown up children are there
And damp confetti like a burst from a bag
Accumulated from a morning's marriages
Is second-hand for them against the door. 

In the wood of the world where neither of them is lost
They take each other by the hand politely;
Borrowers going to and from the Library
Pass through the group as if it were a ghost.



A bitter wind is tidying the attic of the sky,
Tearing the past into little pieces of snow
That dodge in three dimensions.  Unable to read
So many bits, I can but guess
They are codings, receipts and final demands
For income tax, insurance and rates,
Or threats to take it out or cut it off
And make you wait and pay to have it back;
Banker's orders you were asked to sign
And haven't to save the treasurer and covenants
You haven't signed either to save him money;
A list of dates of the century's rarer pennies
And a parody, satirising Social Security,
Of the twenty-third psalm; instructions
To sharpen the mower that had you had at the time
Would have saved your tipping the binmen to take it away,
The good reports the children had from school
And a list of pages to look at (Penguin edition)
For character and use of symbolism;
Directions for reaching a wedding once you have left
M62, forms of voting for people
You didn't know or didn't like or liked still less
When you read their guff – supposing you did –
And apparently didn't vote for anyway, holiday ads.
A flurry of testimonials, too faded to use
In case you imagined at your age
Anyone would offer you another job,
Mixes opaquely to obscure the view;
Bits of a letter melt upon an eyelash.
All about you the bushes, every branch
As stuck with white as a park-keeper's spike,
Retain the litter, the lightly falling debris
Scattering as far as the eye and the mind's eye can see.


from Woods Beyond a Cornfield: Collected Poems (Smith/Doorstop Books 1995)

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