Stuart Cooke

A poem with commentary from 'Lyre,' 2019

author’s note

Lyre is a collection of poems that attempts to translate more-than-human worlds into different kinds of poetry. As much as my encounter with each animal, plant, and landform produced differences of syntax and vocabulary across the poems, I also wanted to allow the subject to unsettle poetic form itself. In other words, it wasn’t enough just to describe the different worlds or unwelten of these different beings; as nonhuman lives were being translated into human poetry, human poetry also needed to undergo some kind of translation into something else. It was in this indeterminate, interstitial region that human cognition might break down, and start to encounter what it was not. The aesthetic totem of the book is the Australian lyrebird, both species of which incorporate collaged samples of other species sounds into complex, polyphonic songcycles of over an hour; similarly, the poems of Lyre include modified samples from a diverse array of literature from the natural sciences, poetry from various languages, and my own field notes. 

— Stuart Cooke, Brisbane, Australia


More details about the book and publisher can be found here.



Fallen Myrtle Trunk


in the temperate forests, the wet

                                  sclerophyll forests where tempests

                                            moan in yourm leaves, a storm beating

                                                  muffled drums at the entrance

                                                       to the underworld, the lands

                                                            of Gondwana, motherland of Australia,

                                                               South America, the hundreds

                                     of years creeping, the moss about youm creeping
                                       the growling thunder, the grim sou’-wester
                                      — by youm all this recedes, falls

like wilting springs


aged into agelessness, less

than age, giant

fullness, monoforest


of years and patience

hint of snake while touch crumbles

like chocolate flakes, vibration vanishes

in yourm tomb, tombing

yourm slumber rots, beachwards

a giant petrified through exposure


imperceptible scuttle scattered

  deeply, cavern hymns at

     cave hertz, yourm august

                  specific music, cylindrical fugue

                                                                        of dark russet scales, closed subdued pink

                                                                             to reddish grain, edified with mountain

                                                                                    ash memory, guardian of closed passage

                                                                                                  pillar of larger sky, of facts like clouds

                                                                                                                                their sky ways wending

youm know the lullabies of loneliness

the ways of wind and rain, youm moan

                                      of fire unless the flames come slowly

                    for yourm return to drowsy droning

                                    the intoning of the wizard priests

                                 the sough of the southern seas

                                      youm’re the stage before the sea

                                         the ground’s stage, for all sea-yearning


                                           yourm limbed stances form too

                                           gradually for change, beneath such gestures

     the stygian flock shelters, shadowed

     in yourm underside, that invisible realm

     of canal venom and latticed vein


    to the light youm present carpet bridge,

    seeds of lives held
      by yourm unfolding descent, ink-
        plumed monarch, ebony laced

 with wing, by the mountain rills

     down to the parched saplings

          on the shore of a receding lake

                 youm know too much

                         of that escarpment beyond, rest

                                    pray, yourm beast prepares for rebirth


while everything frizzes, shifts

                                      brushed and squeeze, sway

                     youm remain sound-

                               like, a solid gradient an always

                                      line, travelling

                                           and unravelling through the same place


     yourm skin mimics lake ripple
     grooved rivulets criss-cross like thickened years
     stone currents into softer solids
     edging damp, ripples merged with moss

     the land’s dry, soft with moss

     a surface of crawling speckleds, blood legs and

     onyx bodies, orange-like

      fruiting bodies protruding from

       yourm furry, whaled bulk


   moss colony, moss scape, the stick shade

          of a seedling wobbles on yourm chest

                       flecked with sonnet, leaf voltas

                                             their jade rhymes, lost brilliance


then fresh blush, pinked to orange faded

                                         jagged, triangled teeth

                                                      and fruits of three stunted

                                                                winged nuts, subtle flourish

                                 of lemon-green catkins, now a mouthing

                                     eddy where a bough broke off

                                       airborne spores of wilt lulled by such knots

                                          have settled on yourm lesion


    one branch, there, pleads help

    by reaching, others

     arch hardened spines around gravity’s slide

      while youm host the epiphytes

         while the termites elaborate yourm runnelled intentions

             while moss slowly fingers, surrounds

                      slowly devours these juts of twig

                                   slowly devours its own ground

                                                which youm perform patiently for it


NB. This poem contains echoes of phrases from Mountain Myrtle,” by Marie E. J. Pitt, and Out of Sorts and Looking at Elms, by Simon West.


editor’s note


The following comments on the book may also be of interest:


“Drawing on the deepest resources of antipodean poetics, Lyre hymns the created world in all its prodigious diversity. It is funny, reverent, full of curious facts, and crazily ambitious. A triumph.”

— J. M. Coetzee


“Stuart Cooke invites us to a fabulous, exciting, wonderful experiment: what does it take to make oneself capable of feeling the poetry of every form of existence? What does it take to decode the poetry of experimenting, experiencing life? Cooke actually writes toward beings, and not about them or on them, seeking how to convey in our writing the way each organic and inorganic being writes (of) its own existence. Cosmopolitical poetry, or geopoetry: his poetry transforms what is seen into what is heard (melodic pixels: cries, crunching sand, murmurs, calls, crashing waves), what is heard into what is tasted (flavors of oceans, marshes, clouds, bodies, fruits), what is tasted into what is smelled (scents of seabed salt from sweet oxygen), what is smelled into what is felt, and what is felt into movement (dances of enduring life, momentum, convergence and friction, connections, desires and importances, compositions, migrations, territories, respirations, inspirations, aspirations …), movement into writing (geopoetry), writing into drawing (graphopoetry: gulf estuaries, waves, rocks, flickering lights of fireflies, optical epics on the pages), and, finally, drawing into enacted stories, as nourished by knowledge as they are undisciplined.”

— Vinciane Despret


“These vibrational songs of selection listen in to the metabolic essays of life forms, imbricated in human exchange, across a wide swath of the southern hemisphere. Cooke’s Lyre sounds the depths of alien intelligence, in the nearby abyss between disciplines, languages, bodies, and in the drift of new yet barely discerned continents. Shaped poetry was never so planetary, nor as porous to other ways of seeing and knowing — an astonishing act of attention.”

— Jonathan Skinner