Rich Cook


Rich Cook writes poetry. His work has previously appeared in Ink, Sweat & Tears and the RPS Notes into Letters project. He is currently working on his MA portfolio, a collection of poems about his upbringing in the West Midlands and its industrial heritage.


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(For Murdoch, Boulton and Watt)


Roll up the shutters Mr Murdoch, let the people see!


Six years of working the coal, knowing

that it harnessed the two great properties of the sun;

heat and light, combustion

in its correct proportions proved elusive

until Mister Watt perfected the steam engine.


I walked 300 miles from Redruth to Birmingham

with nothing more than an idea,

a desire to illuminate this Black Country,

what followed was a summoning;

gas- spirit of the coal, awakened

from the powdery fissures of nugget after nugget,

I captured its invisible vapors in retort.


Working the black gold, examining

its every nook until I had control,

wherefore it could be lit without fear of retribution.

When I had begun to perfect the process I had the audacity

to fill a bladder on a dense winter’s night

and light our way along Medlock Bank

leading my men like a piper across the battlefield.


This, it could be said, my first victory,

although the flame was little more than a firefly

quickly followed by a brief fulguration

of the Soho Foundry, the light a simple flash,

but enough to fuel encouragement.


Progress Mr Murdoch we cannot exist in the dark forever


When the flame was mastered I strung

a line of 60 lamps across the foundry yard

each one lit by hand, once they were all ablaze

they did scintillate with a brilliant flare which burned

in amber, red and gold.


As I surveyed the faces of those who had come to witness

the turning of night back in to the day,

I was struck by the change in register,

each set of eyes flickering as wild as the lamps

that roared before us.



Drove around the estate in a roller,

cream leather upholstery

and a quarter inch of maroon gloss paint,


applied by hand, liked to pretend

he was a surgeon, always wore a single red

carnation, in the lapel of his double breasted


cut at Hunstman of Savile Row.

Liked a snifter of first growth claret

always Margaux or Mouton.


I remember him eating steak tartare

in the kitchen at Lodge Road, biggest house on the block

the one with the horse chesnut


all my friends would raid on autumn evenings

like mini bank robbers,

scratchy balaclavas swaddling their tiny bonces.


He left one Christmas morning to take his mistress

“fat Jill” with her candy floss hair

on the Orient Express and returned


just before New Year to his wife

the first female Magistrate in town,

who accepted his belated Xmas present


of a tartan shopping trolley housing two bottles

of Gordon’s dry gin.

Fat Jill kept on until his death,


we saw her stomping down the corridor

the last time I visited at the private hospital,

the nurse with the drinks trolley


offering tea or coffee and a small selection

of fizzy drinks, Robin searching

for a final glass of claret, defiantly announcing


I have never drunk a can of coke in my life.


The family has decided to retire our father

for his preservation,

we have found the perfect spot on the factory floor

which he will soon occupy amongst

the antiquated lathes

roped off with a thick line of velvet

dusted free of fine metal filigree,

the wooden slats to which he will be bolted

have been skinned

of near a centuries worth of industrial grime.

At night I sneak into his room

and funnel litres of silken oil through his open mouth

as his engine softly splutters,

it pours like freshly harvested honey,

building strength as his inner workings

are in need of continual lubrication.

His body is growing stiffer with the weight of his new wiring,

hindering movement so I work globs of axel grease

into his joints to ease the strain,

when he eats his insides rotate like a belt drive

emitting a satisfying little hum,

in time this will amplify

filling a 20,000 square foot warehouse

with the revs of his motor at full steam.