Monday, 28 June 2021

Talking to you, Meg Cox's A Square of Sunlight

On a first skim through Meg Cox’s first full collection, A Square of Sunlight (Smith-Doorstep, 2021), it’s inevitable and natural that most eyes should focus on her exceptional rhyming poems. These poetic earworms combine wit and musicality, and lodge in the reader’s mind with ease, as in the ending to ‘The Third Person in the Marriage’:

…You said we were finished. But that can’t be true –
it can’t be too late for us – I really love you.
And what has she got, that woman, I’ve not?
Just his kids, a house, my lover. The lot.

These poems will probably become her signature pieces. Not only are they eminently quotable, but a certain unexpected inevitability to their cadences and structures runs through them via her imperceptible heightening of the natural flow of language.

However, it would be a crass mistake for readers and critics to pigeonhole Meg Cox’s work, as this collection offers evidence of a more wide-ranging talent. Cox is capable of adopting and adapting a variety of poetic techniques while binding them together via a cohesive approach to both writing and life.

One such example is the following extract from ‘Cowlick’:

 …One cow is licking her calf’s ear,
thoroughly and roughly,
and the calf’s head is turned
to one side, reluctant but compliant
and I recognise my mother
washing my ears and behind my ears
and my head turned at just that angle
with a flannel as coarse as a cow’s tongue.

An initial comparison with ‘The Third Person in the Marriage’ might reveal superficial differences in technique in terms of rhyme and metrics, while this second poem also showcases a delicious poetic leap from the cow to the human that’s then capped off by a terrific simile. Nevertheless, both poems share qualities. These include turns of phrase that startle but then feel just right, alongside acute observation of the dynamics of relationships.

The poems in this book are brave. There’s a co-existence of a huge zest for life with an awareness of the ageing process to such an extent that it’s impossible to read the collection without being infected with an urge to make the most of life. And then there’s Cox’s embracing and subverting of poetic influences to layer them with her own idiosyncrasies, as in ‘Marmalade’…

There’s a pot of your dark orange marmalade in my cupboard,
still unopened. It lasts a long time but I might never open it now.
The last time you gave me some jars I asked how much
you’d made and you said enough to see us out…

This poem doesn’t hide from its connection with Larkin’s ‘An April Sunday brings the snow’. Instead, it takes his male, filial perspective and filters it through an intensely female view of friendship.

In other words, Meg Cox’s poetry is a joy. Whether savoured in sips or gulped down in one, A Square of Sunlight is an excellent read. As mentioned above, it will probably lodge in people’s minds thanks to its excellent rhyming pieces. However, the collection’s greatest value perhaps lies in Cox’s diction. It’s claimed that the best radio presenters manage to speak as if addressing a single person, striking up a conversation, making the addressee feel special and unique, as if the presenter in question is talking only to them. Few poets achieve such an effect, but Meg Cox does so. Get hold of her book and let her talk to you too…

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