Chloe Wilson Reviews David McCooey

24 April 2017

In ‘Pastorals (Eighteen Dramatic Monologues)’, it is the life of the popular musician which be-comes a (not entirely ironic) idyll. Poems call back the settings and themes of earlier sections; one is voiced by Mick and Bianca Jagger as subjects of a photograph (‘Mick and Bianca Jagger, Newlyweds’); and another by Brian Eno in hospital (‘Before and After Science: Brian Eno in Hospital’), whose gaze at ‘the faint green of a distant park’ recalls earlier speakers gazing at un-inhabited, distant spaces. Even Joni Mitchell recalls afternoon driving as a ‘lens-flare’ (‘Monody: Joni Mitchell Recalls Laurel Canyon’). But it is not only the singers themselves who think back on the glamour of their earlier years with longing and nostalgia; it is also a selection of fans, whose connection to twentieth century popular music has been a touchstone in their lives. One meets, for instance, a Stevie Nicks fan drawing tenuous parallels between her idol’s life and her own (‘I reckon her time at / Arcadia High School wasn’t that / different from my school days’ in ‘Nightbird Singing’), and a doctoral student who ‘blurts’ about their love for Kate Bush’s Never For Ever to a supervisor (‘Never For Ever’). The simian speaker of ‘Shock the Monkey’ is a less literal fit into such a set of poems, though when it watches the scientists ‘make mournful and / growling noises, and sometimes hit things’, there seems to be a sly hint that these humans do indeed ‘ape the ape’.

The key to this section’s connection with the rest of the poems in Star Struck seems to be in the pair of poems, both titled ‘This Voice’, which bookend the collection. These brief poems explore the question of the extent to which the lyric ‘I’ (or in this case, ‘you’) can be read as the poet themselves. The first poem opens:

It goes without saying
that it sounds like your voice.
But is it yours? And if 
not yours, then whose?

This questioning is echoed in the collection’s final poem, where ‘A voice that could be yours’ is heard. For any speaker who has been intimately connected with music that contains lyrics, this question of voice and who speaks is a pertinent one. The recorded voice in a song is a liminal space, presenting an ‘I’ which anyone – the original singer, another artist, a fan, etc. – can inhabit for the song’s duration. Each time this occurs, they have the opportunity to commune not only with the artist but with their own memories of earlier moments in which they have inhabited this same voice (which is static, captured, much like a photograph). It is therefore both ‘your voice’ and not your voice; in much the same way that the speaker of a lyric poem is poet and not-poet, and the self after an event as life-altering as a heart attack both is and is not the self they were before.

‘Two Nocturnal Tales’, the collection’s final section, comprises two longer narrative poems which touch on by-now familiar themes. Again there is uncanny light and unsettling settings either uninhabited or populated by alien figures (‘I suddenly had a vision of my own house / lit up in the suburban night, a party underway’, ‘“La Notte”: A Tale of the Uncanny’). And again, there is a distrust in the reality of the present: having snuck into another teacher’s room at a school camp, a teacher whispers ‘Is it the real thing?’ to her indifferent lover, clearly referring to more than the bomb threat that has just been called in (‘Under the Cover of Night: A Ro-mance’). Meanwhile, in ‘La Notte’, a bereaved spouse, speaking half the time in parentheses, experiences objects around the house being ‘moved’ by unseen hands.

Star Struck is an apt title for this collection, as it suggests not only the worship of celebrity but those cataclysmic and fatal events that can change a life in permanent and often un-predictable ways. McCooey’s collection is, like its title, at once wry and sincere; its droll mo-ments never detract from the fragility and humanity of its speakers, who are all doggedly awak-ening to the next ‘unprecedented sunrise’ (‘Second-Person’).

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