Image Credit: Charly Cox, Fox Lane Books
If you’d have asked me a week ago whether poetry would ever make me cry, I’d have laughed and said ‘of course not’. While I love reading poetry, I couldn’t help but always feel I was probably missing something. That there were other people, literature students for starters, who could understand it so much better than me, get more out of it and were certainly more likely to have any kind of emotional response to it.
But after now having attended my first poetry reading, I can confirm that my answer to that question would have in fact been wrong. As despite my distinct lack of poetry expertise, it did not seem to stop me from having a good old cry last week, when I attended the book tour for poet Charly Cox’s new collection Validate Me.
Cox’s first book She Must Be Mad, published in 2018 when she was just 22, has been a favourite of mine since I first picked it up earlier this year. My copy has faced a level of destruction few of my books receive the compliment of experiencing, having been squished in to bags and dogeared throughout, scribbled in from all angles and underlined time and time again.
Yet despite how much I love her work, I certainly did not think when taking my seat for her poetry reading last week, that by the end of that same evening I’d be standing in front of her with tears in my eyes (and quite a few rolling down my face), laughing, dying of embarrassment and constantly repeating ‘no honestly I don’t know where this has come from, I never cry in public!’
She Must Be Mad is perhaps best summed up by the short description printed on its title page ‘A mental coming-of-age documented through poetry and prose written by someone who’s still in the thick of it’. That’s essentially it. Split in to four sections; ‘she must be in love’; ‘she must be mad’; ‘she must be fat’ and ‘she must be an adult’, this book covers everything from love to heartbreak, mental illness to that sudden and terrifying realisation that you’ve become an adult.
Cox’s new title Validate Me too focuses on similar themes, this time looking at them through the lens of living a life online, growing up with the internet and being consumed as a society by social media. This second collection demonstrates that in the year between publications Cox certainly hasn’t lost her touch. Jam packed with the same cringe-worthy anecdotes, gut wrenching honesty and signature pop culture references Validate Me certainly lives up to its older sister.
Cox’s writing makes me laugh, it makes me desperately sad, but mainly it gives me a feeling of unparalleled relatability. F. Scott Fitzgerald (a man with a quote for every situation) said that part of the beauty of literature is ‘that you discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong’. That’s what Charly Cox’s poetry is for me, it’s belonging.
I think I’d always assumed that because I hadn’t studied literature since secondary school, because I didn’t fit in to the idea in my head of what someone who ‘understands’ poetry looks like that I was missing out on something. That reading poetry and truly ‘getting it’ was somehow a bit above my pay grade, that as much as I enjoyed it, there were probably other people out there able to get so much more out of it than me.
But if I’ve learnt something this past week, it is not only that live poetry readings aren’t half as awkward as you’d think they would be, but that poetry doesn’t have to be for ‘other people’, literature in general doesn’t. When I read Cox’s work, I feel something (apparently when I hear it read aloud to me, I cry!) and that is it. That feeling is what I am supposed to be getting out of it. There isn’t some badge you get awarded with any qualification that marks you as one of the few who’s allowed to read poetry and claim to understand it. If it means something to you, then that’s it.
And so, this is a call to action in two parts. Firstly, a call to read Charly Cox’s poetry because it is excellent and if you’ve ever been in love or had your heartbroken, ever experienced a social media overload or wondered how the hell you suddenly woke up in your twenties, then you’ll find something in these books to relate to. Whatever crisis it is that comes just before the quarter-life crisis – these books are for that. And having now met Charly, I can confirm that she is just as kind, funny and infinitely cool as her writing makes her seem, something that makes reading her work even more enjoyable for me now.
But more than that, this is not just a call to read Cox’s poetry but any poetry. To not be put off by any preconceived ideas of what poetry is or who someone to reads it and understands it is. If you read it and it can make you feel something then you’ve got it. It really is that simple.