Apocalypse Dreams by Jennifer Cooke ~ Review
For me, listening to Jennifer Cooke read her complete poetry collection Apocalypse Dreams at Brighton’s Hi Zero, and then subsequently reading it myself, was an extended meditation on the moment of Now as the apocalyptic end. Jonathan Jones suggested in The Guardian that we have been living in a post-apocalyptic age since the detonation of the atomic bomb and its influence on mass culture and consciousness, an idea that I explored in my poem, Post-Apocalypse. But Apocalypse Dreams seems to meditate on the tension between this moment and the next, when ‘apocalypse’ inhabits the heart of both.
The present is continually evoked throughout the collection as the anchoring vocabulary of the quotidian. Familiar everyday objects, places and activities such as ‘camping’, ‘tent pegs’, ‘tarpaulin’, ‘lecture theatre’, ‘work’, ‘rave’, ‘study leave’ and ‘creosoted sheds’ place the poetry decidedly within the world we know and inhabit – particularly if we happen to inhabit suburban middle England. The vocabulary of earth and sky, seasons and water is also strongly prominent, giving the collection a firm grounding in the concrete details of our lived experience on this planet.
It is these details – juxtaposed with the strange, the terrifying and the melancholy – that help to create the uneasy sense that the apocalypse is as much immanent as it is imminent. The poem Carry On, which begins ‘I did not expect to find myself at the end of the world / camping’ (9), is grimly evocative of the bewildering reality of the millions of refugees whose experience significantly characterises the contemporary: they have watched their world turn to rubble and ash and now find themselves displaced, homeless and encamped on fragile and unfamiliar soil. This is a reality of now. It’s not the unthinkable fiction of a future.
Likewise the otherness of water in this collection, which is ‘shocking’, democratising and relentless. These are echoes and dreams of the world we inhabit in this moment, of lives that are the others of our own, however vehemently we may deny it or mollify our minds with permanent distractions.
End Notes explores the idea that ‘the end does not stop / ending and the present stretches the ending out’ (17), suggesting that there is an affinity and interrelationship between the end and the now – each coexisting within and between the other. Here, the tensions between present life and future apocalypse are played out in a permanently contradictory and dialectical embrace: ‘end of this moment into the next too fast’ (16). There is not one without the other. The end is a necessary part of every moment, a vitalising force of constant change and opening to unwritten possibilities. Within each moment is its own apocalypse – the revelation and the ending of what is; the cataclysmic end and new beginning.
Ernst Bloch suggests that utopia resides in that which is ‘in the process of being’*. This collection suggests to me that apocalypse resides in that which is in the process of ending – the end that doesn’t stop ending, that is perpetually energised by the focus of the present.
‘Wouldn’t it be shit if the end of the world was a rave in the snow. Yet here it is.’ (Dream, 12). Here it is. Present tense. Here is the end of the world; here is the rave in the snow. It is shit but here it is and it is all we’ve got right now in this moment. Embrace it.
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*Bloch, Ernst and Adorno, Theodor (1964). ‘Something’s Missing: A Discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodor W Adorno on the Contradictions of Utopian Longing’. In Bloch, Ernst (1988). The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected Essays, trans. Zipes, Jack and Mecklenberg, Frank. Cambridge (Mass.)/London: MIT Press, p15.
Sally-Shakti Willow – Research Assistant, The Contemporary Small Press