The Chalk Path

The Chalk Path - front cover

Joe, Hugh, and I are publishing our third shared poetry pamphlet very soon. Our hope is to have it coincide with the Chalk arts and literary festival in Winchester, which starts on Saturday.

The Chalk Path is the final instalment in our trilogy of pamphlets, which began with The Inner Sea in 2012. Earlier this year we published, The Tide Clock. Publishing a shared collection is a great way for poets to collaborate on a project, experiment with the format, and inspire each other. You can also benefit from exposure to each other’s audiences.

While The Inner Sea began our journey at the ocean, and The Tide Clock continued our journey to the fringe of land and sea, The Chalk Path concludes our odyssey inland, drawing on chalk hills and paths known to us, as well as themes of blankness and absence. The cover painting of Danebury Ring is another by multi-talented Hugh.

Where we might go from here is an open question. The trio of pamphlets seems complete, at least for now, and we may concentrate on publishing independently, or collaborating in a different format.


An experiential exploration of movement within the landscape, taking you beyond maps to the cries of buzzards, the feeling of chalk dust on fingers and the glimpse of a white horse.


Joe Franklin

If You Fall In You Will Be Walking Home
Urban Bee Keeping
Living With a Writer
The Chalk Path

Hugh Greasley

Tap Water
Native Habitat
Water Tasting

Mark Cooper

Golden Cap
Garden of Opposites
The Lady of the Lake
Snow Buddha


Here’s one of mine from The Chalk Path:


Golden Cap is less brilliant now,
greenery mars its white pyramid, a sign
of climate change, or that our names for things
barely touch the things themselves.

We’ve always been walking this chalk path
and yet we take a Saturday out of the rush
of making our life the way we want it
before it’s over just to live. Just to feel
our footprints on the chalk, this blank grit.
The path we started on, an unfinished thread,
depends on billions of long-dead coccoliths
too small and short-lived to have ideas about living
yet they’ve shaped the land. Shy ammonites
also lie buried in this blank necropolis,
breaking free during an occasional storm.
Whether or not they ever came out of themselves
during their turbulent lives, they’re still here,
solid enough to walk on. It’s we who are ghosts.


An early draft of ‘The Edge’

There’s a poem in The Tide Clock titled ‘The Edge’. Here’s an earlier version of it that perhaps works in its own right, before the poem took a different turn. This version is more overtly about zazen: zen meditation practice.

Just Sitting

Waves relinquish the carracks,
make fractals, circles, then stillness.
My shadow drifts on the water,
part of the headland, tailed with rock.

Children play on the fringe of all
they can and cannot imagine.
The green sea peels back and here I am
between the inbetween; grateful,

coping, very nearly thriving,
content to be this not-self after all.
I’m scenery in someone else’s childhood
on a spit of land between blue nothings.

A fishing boat threads the bay
golden with a brazen shining stitch
lit by the falling sun. My legs ache.
So much for zazen. I have an itch.

The Tide Clock version:

The Edge by Mark Cooper

Read the rest of The Tide Clock here.

The Tide Clock proof has arrived

The new poetry pamphlet I’ve been working on with Hugh Greasley and Joe Franklin has arrived in proof form. There are a couple of minor errors to be fixed: I didn’t leave enough room between the bleed and the page margin on the cover, for one thing. These should now be resolved and I’ve put the order in for the first printing.

The cover art is Paziols Morning by Hugh. Check out more of his art at

Get in touch if you’d like me to post you one!

The Tide Clock proof

The Tide Clock - Mark's poems

Ishmael’s Leg

I’ve just finished typesetting the first draft of The Tide Clock and Other Poems. This will be a shared pamphlet featuring poetry by Joe Franklin, Hugh Greasley and myself. It’s not unlike the split 7″ singles bands used to put out to share production costs and pool their fanbases. You might remember a similar collection we produced in 2013, The Inner Sea.

As a taste of what’s to come, here’s one of mine that draws on Melville’s classic, Moby Dick. Check back here soon for more news about The Tide Clock

Ishmael’s Leg

“I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was then composing.”

— Moby Dick.

I’ll leave it blank.
These patterns are only as permanent as skin
though a decent word might outlast the sea-places
I go to fish or through which I leave a life.
Shallows are quick to warm but never the same
from one wave to the next: like the bays, beaches and ports
long cast out of which, even if I’m gone an hour,
swell with strangers, new winds, tides.
You can never go back.

My mind’s tattooed with dreams,
changing more than my blue-inked body shows.
Nothing I write could fill the absence of friends
more central than myself in a life between storms.
Tyrants, bad weather and worse luck have marked me
more indelibly than ink but I love the tale
because I’ve never been the author of my fate
and yet there is a silent part to tell.

When the MOOC hits your eye like a big pizza pie

I love Massive Open Online Courses. For a number of weeks you can learn from some of the best teachers in the world. I commissioned this free PDF, Studying a MOOC: a Guide, because there wasn’t much in the way of study skills guidance out there for students on online courses: MOOCs themselves don’t teach students how to get the most out of MOOCs. This guide by Professor Neil Morris and James Lambe at The University of Leeds should change that. Studying a MOOC is free to download.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When Jackson Pollock was asked, of painting, “How do you know when you’ve finished?” He replied, “How do you know when you’ve finished making love?”

I’m about to try The Rialto with some poems, having worked on these particular pieces for around two years on and off. At various times I thought they were ‘nearly there’ but after a cooling off period I would dive back in. There were tendons to be stretched, forests to manicure, buried machinery to be unearthed. At a recent work in progress meet up with some friends, I announced that a poem was ‘basically done’ only to spend the next two weeks making one small adjustment after another.

But what does it mean for writing to be ‘finished’? Digitally published texts can be edited at any time and even traditional books are frequently revised between editions and printings. There are three versions of Wordsworth’s The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet’s Mind: 1799, 1805 and 1850 (published posthumously). Paul Valery claimed that “A poem is never finished, only abandoned”. Auden agreed with Valery. He also believed the most painful type of poem for the poet to be “the good ideas which his incompetence or impatience prevented from coming to much”. He revisited some of his published pieces many times over his career. I’ve carried the Valery quote around for a long time but I don’t necessarily agree. There is a point at which the forces in a poem pull the rubble into a whole, like a planet pulling itself into a sphere.

How much landscaping should you do once this has happened? A good rule of thumb might be if you can read your poem without wanting to make a single change. Put it aside for an hour. A night. Show it to someone without having to explain or apologise for it. Work on something else for a few weeks. Inspiration is ongoing: it can grow steadily or quickly, like grass. Your subconscious mind holds on to things long after you’ve put them down. Writing goes deeper and is more mysterious than we think.

The ideal would be to combine the spontaneity of your first thought with patience and clarity. After all, what you have on the page may only be a framework for what you really intend to say. Emanuel Lasker, the great chess master said, “If you find a good move, look for a better one”. You may have a good line, but is there something better? You should be prepared to ask that question for a long time. This means living with the work. Waiting. A poem is a journey. You will cover unexpected distance before it is done. A good amount of that distance is time. Seasons change. A new landscape takes shape.

Am I sure that these poems are finished now? Yes. Maybe. I’ve been celebrating a friend’s birthday with a few ales so my judgement might be impaired. I’ll sleep on it one more night.

The expectation of surprise

I sent a batch of poems to Poetry London yesterday. Sending to magazines is a great excuse to catch up on any issues you haven’t read in a while. They give you a sense of what’s happening in poetry. It’s refreshing to see emerging themes and styles. How far this is because of the editorial vision or the movements of a collective muse is difficult to know. If it were obvious the magazine would probably feel laboured and didactic.

But even when you are familiar with a magazine, it’s not really possible to second guess what the editor wants to read because, in all likelihood, the editor wants to be surprised. All we can say is that the poem has to be one of the silver bullets:  self-contained enough to survive when separated from the body of your work. Perhaps all poems should be.