September 4, 2008

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My Eightieth Year to Heaven, Brian Cox, Carcanet Press, (2008, 64 pages)
By Dan Szczesny news@hippopress.com

Finally, a reflection on age and the frailty of life that is neither ironic nor morbid. This thin, pleasant collection of verse is a fine counterpoint to the tendency of aging poets to look back on their lives with regret or sadness. There’s none of that with Brian Cox, a British academic who has been writing and publishing since the 1950s. In “My Eightieth Year to Heaven” Cox is comfortable in his own skin, and oh so British when it comes to the contemplation of everyday life.

Shakespeare is here, as is Jane Eyre. There are orphans, of course, and Manchester United makes an appearance. There’s a villa and canoeing, and Pip shows up as well.

In 2001 Cox was diagnosed with a advanced prostate cancer, and he does write about his experience here, but it’s cheerful and encouraging. The proper English gentlemen would never be caught being a whiner.

Cox brings it all together in one of the simplest poems of the collection, “Fox.” Here, the narrator is awakened in the middle of the night by a fox that sets off his burglar light as it tramps through the garden. The narrator feels bad for the fox’s “cult of violence” and wishes the fox understood “the civil arts — kindness and tolerance.” But it’s only a fox after all. Tea anyone? B+Dan Szczesny