Poetry review: 07/10/21

by Meg Cox

Cover of A square of sunlight by Meg Cox

Human nature and experience transcend class boundaries in this collection.

The first poem, ‘A Square of Sunlight’, takes the reader on a school girl’s unhurried journey home. The small details of the town place us firmly in her shoes. Cox leads us by the senses. We’re unsuspecting, lulled by the cheery title, the bakers and the ripening pears. Maybe the stale cakes, the touching of the gravestone and the shadowy dining room should have been enough to warn us that this poem won’t end well but I failed to read the signs and was as shocked as the young girl when she walks into the kitchen to find,


Her dad

in his cricket whites, prone and beating his fist

on the quarry tile floor in a square of sunlight.


Any number of quintessentially English cathedrals, boaters and blazers won’t make this okay.


The world Cox describes as a child, is alien to me. She writes poems that reminisce about holidays in French villas and eating olives. Growing up in the rural north, I’d never even heard of such things – these were treats reserved for a different class. But human nature and human experience transcends class boundaries and Cox writes poems with brutal honesty at heart: whether she is exposing the near miss of a paedophile:


I would remember more

but luckily for me Stan liked to play

with little boys and not little girls.


or writing about a foul-mouthed parrot,


blue, red and yellow fluster of beak and claw,

coarse voiced, free minded, friendly, crapping,

indiscriminate glory of a bird.


This kind of enthusiasm for poetic description, bursting with energy, can be found throughout the collection but my overwhelming experience of these poems is of living tinged with the darker sides of life: sometimes through personal experience but often as an observer of history and the news. ‘Near Ypres’ could also be written about Srebrenica. It’s a simple, moving poem that reminds us of the many places on our earth, built to commemorate mass death:


It was the numbers and the names

on the white stones in rows

under the open innocent sky.


‘Today’s Headlines’ takes,


the news

of 300 circus fleas dead of cold somewhere.


and builds empathy and then anger about the treatment of fleas reliant on someone else for their safety and survival. It’s not a huge leap from fleas,


dumped in a ditch, forgotten in a

cold house or trapped in a box.


to the news stories of neglected children or asylum seekers locked up in their country of refuge.


Between the sad, the tragic and the angry, there are poems that lighten the tone - well written and lovely - a pleasure to return to again and again. ‘Garden Cows’ is one of these.


Last night, in muffling snow, four cows

flipped their gate and wandered up our lane.


I urge you to read it. It’s rhythms and half-rhymes take you into the hushed night and the magic of this incongruous encounter:


I wish they’d return, friends from my day-lit world,

moon-shadowed, strangers on my hoof-holed verge.


Don’t put this collection down without reading ‘My Friend the Prize-Winning Poet.’ It’s the only poem she feels the need to use the f word in and it will make you feel better about yourself.

Review: Sarah Hehir

Get it:

ISBN/E-ISBN: 978-1-912196-85-2, 978-1-912196-86-9

smith|doorstop, 2021
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£6.50 – £9.95