Coker is a village in Somersetshire. In 1667, Andrew Eliot emigrated from the
village to the New World, and specifically the American colonies. A little more
than two centuries later, one of Andrew’s direct descendants was born in St.
Louis, and would grow up to write poetry. He would name one of his poems “East
Coker,” for the village of his ancestors. The poem was one of four “quartets,” originally
published individually as pamphlets in England during World War II. The four
would eventually be published together in America under the title of Four
poet, of course, is T.S.
Eliot, who is more associated with what we describe as “modernism” than virtually
any other poet. (Other modernist poets include Ezra Pound, William
Carlos Williams, Dylan
Thomas and Wallace
Stevens.) Modernism has much to do with the changes that racked Western
society and culture following the Industrial Revolution, the population shift
from rural to urban areas, the scientific revolution, and World War I. Context
had changed; culture had changed. Society was disjointed, a kind of “waste
land,” to use Eliot’s phrase, collectively suffering what we call today “post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD).” People had become “hollow men.”
is these modernist images from Eliot that we find embedded in East
of Coker, a novella-length work by U.K. writer Andy Owen.
Photograph: T.S. Eliot in the 1920s, when he wrote The Waste Land.