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'The Detective' by Cardinal Cox

I'm trying to get my reviewing mojo back, and it's not easy. However, one item I'm always pleased to see is a slim, intriguing poetry pamphlet from Cardinal Cox, formerly Poet Laureate of Peterborough.

His latest pamphlet is the twelfth in his retro-futurist series, which intersects with the Gothic, along with sci-fi and general weirdness. As usual, the poems are short, pithy, interesting, and the footnotes are a veritable cornucopia of interesting ideas. So, what's it about?

We begin with William Godwin, whose Caleb Williams was arguably the first detective novel. 'Sir, I Write to You: Prelude' concerns a possible sighting of Godwin's stepdaughter, Fanny Imlay. According to the footnote, 'Mr Godwin believed the account offered to him by the poet Percy Shelley that Fanny had committed suicide in Swansea, though he is never recorded as meeting Shelley's continental friend, Victor Frankenstein.'

And there were are, up to our necks in Romanticism, giblets, and hubris. Next up, in 'The Rookeries', we find the Peeler cleaning out dens of iniquity. The Old Bailey, Newgate, the need to find someone to hang when a toff gets murdered - the whole Dickensian panoply is here. This is an early memory of our mysterious detective. As is the Frost Fair, nicely evoked in the following poem.

'Stories Knives Tell Us' seems all too timely a comment on violence, as some things have not changed as much as we would like. Our detective joins the Met, and the poem is a series of questions about wounds, slashing, stabbing. 'Where is the knife? Where is the knife?/That ends this particular life?' Then, in 'The Pits', Cox spells out the destruction of small villages as the Great Wen that was London expanded. The glowing, smoky pits are a rather Blakeian image, as is the reference to 'Spirits as witch invited for Saul'.

'What Would Captain Nemo Do?' is surely one of the best titles for anything ever. The answer, of course, is 'Attack the British Empire's trade routes with a submarine', but there's more to the poem than that. It is about our monstrous destruction of marine life, the bleached coral and plastic slicks, the overfishing and wild weather. Perhaps we need a new Captain Nemo to fight in defence of the oceans? An eco-warrior indeed.

This world being a bit steampunky, a poem about Charles Babbage is almost inevitable. Cox links the pioneer to the 'Cogmunist Party', which the detective infiltrates after gleaning some useful data from Babbage. The next poem looks more closely at the Cogmunists, and their automata with painted faces made of 'wax, cold wood and metal'. Our detective is now an agent provocateur for the shadowy Department D of the Home Office. He gets the weird cases, hence 'Dr. Jekyll in General Practice', with its litany of Victorian unpleasantness that, we might infer, might turn any mild-mannered physician into a monster.

The detective comes to wonder what drives anyone to crime in 'Three Club Members', and whether a better society could be created in 'News from Now Here'. In the latter Cox echoes William Morris' verse quite expertly. Anyone familiar with 'Forget six counties overhung with smoke' will get it:

Now I will not not talk of famine or war
Betrayals, massacres or martyrs' blood
Of what comes after or what came before
Cities in ruin or corpses in mud
I'll give you cottages standing in sun
For all who must dwell in terraced hovels

Things seem to be shaping up for a good old-fashioned revolution, with the Invincible Army and the Peripheral Committee up to a lot of somethings. The analysis of the codename Sebastian Melmoth leads to a fake scandal. But then things are disrupted by that other old favourite, as the Martians descend upon Surrey. Department D operatives fight in the resistance. But there is a more secretive group, the Grey Men, who seem very well-prepared for the Martian invasion. They are, it seems, a true state within a state, acting purely out of self-interest. The detective ponders mysteries within mysteries, garlands of lies, and when the world is safe again, he takes on a new persona. The circle closes, and a warning is issued to the tyrants of the new century...

As you'll have gathered, I enjoyed these poems and footnotes immensely, and I think you might too. If you would like to read The Detective, send an SAE to Cardinal Cox at:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay


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