Geoff Cochrane was a poet and fiction writer. His poems appeared in journals and anthologies, and he published several volumes of poetry. His writing has been described as, ‘spare in form and precise in language’. He published a novella, Quest Clinic, in 1992, and his first novel, Tin Nimbus (1995), describes an alcoholic’s quest for sobriety and eventual escape from institutions that may provide it. Cochrane was the recipient of a 2014 Laureate Award. He published 19 collections of poetry, two novels and a collection of short fiction.
FROM THE OXFORD COMPANION TO NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE
Cochrane, Geoff (1951– ), was a poet and fiction writer. He was born in Wellington, where he has lived almost all his life. One of a large Catholic family, he was educated at St Patrick’s College.
His poetry first appeared in small collections from private presses: Images of Midnight City (1976), Solstice (1979, with Victoria Broome and Lindsay Rabbitt), The Sea the Landsman Knows (1980), Taming the Smoke (1983) and Kandinsky’s Mirror (1989). Aztec Noon (1992) is a collection of twenty-seven new poems plus a selection from previous volumes, published by Victoria University Press. His poems also appeared in Sport and Printout, and in several anthologies. Cochrane’s poetry could be described as ‘pain distilled’; spare in form and precise in language, it fixes an often melancholy mood in complex shifts of thought and imagery, usually mediated through a physical setting.
Cochrane also published fiction. A novella, ‘Quest Clinic’ (Sport 9, 1992), and his first novel, Tin Nimbus (1995), both describe, in precise and polished language, an alcoholic’s quest for sobriety and eventual escape from institutions that may provide it. Blood (1997) retrospectively recaptures Wellington in the mid-1970s. The fiction’s intensity and evocativeness reflect Cochrane’s experience as a poet.
Cochrane's collection of poetry Vanilla Wine was published by Te Herenga Waka University Press (THWUP, then Victoria University Press) in 2003. His poem 'Vanilla Wine' was named as one of the Best New Zealand Poems 2003.
Hypnic Jerks (THWUP), a collection of poetry, was published in 2005. He also contributed 'Three Stories' to The Best of New Zealand Fiction: Volume Three (Vintage, 2006).
Cochrane had a poem included in Shards of Silver (Steele Roberts, 2006), a book investigating the interplay between photography and poetry.
84-484 (VUP, 2007) is a collection of poetry that takes its name from Cochrane's grandparents' phone number in the 1950s. In his review of 84-484 for the Sunday Star Times (19 August, 2007), Iain Sharpe called it '…a glorious mess of a book, packed with reminiscences of a Catholic upbringing, anecdotes about derelict acquaintances, arcana about aircraft, quotes from a lifetime’s reading and movie-going, shrewd observations, skew-whiff axioms.'
David Eggleton in the Dominion Post says of 84-484, 'it becomes apparent that Cochrane is not merely a frugal poet, thriftily recycling anecdotal skerricks and wisps of philosophical thoughts and self-destructive needs into highly crafted and sophisticated works of art, but also a darkly humorous memorialist: a keeper of the keys for marginal Wellington.'
Pocket Edition was published by THWUP in 2009. Paula Green, in the New Zealand Herald, wrote: "Cochrane's mix of dark, witty, concentrated lines are well worth storing in a jacket pocket for the spare little moments that beg for a poem."
The Worm in the Tequila was published by THWUP in 2010, and was described as a 'bracing and invigorating distillation of his distinctive talent.' ‘Geoff Cochrane’s is a whole world, rendered in lines at once compressed and open, mysterious and approachable.’ — Damien Wilkins
The Bengal Engine's Mango Afterglow (THWUP), a collection of poems, was published in 2012. Astonished Dice (THWUP) was published in 2014 and collects his two slim volumes of short stories, originally published in limited editions, the early novella ‘Quest Clinic’, and more recent stories.
Cochrane was the recipient of a 2014 Laureate Award, presented as part of the 2014 Westpac New Zealand Arts Awards.
More collections of poetry published by THWUP followed: Wonky Optics (2015), Rededits (2017), and The Black and the White (2019).
In 2020, Cochrane published his nineteenth collection of poems, Chosen. Reviewing it for ANZL, Lynley Edmeades wrote: Chosen is, like O’Hara’s Lunch Poems or Barthelme’s Paradise, as Cochrane himself says (of the latter), ‘a zestful wee caprice as light as cake.’ It may not satisfy the probing reader, but there’s something very comforting in knowing that we have our very own O’Hara, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette outside Victoria Street Café, or catching the number 2 bus home to Miramar."
Pip Adam writes: ‘Over the years, Cochrane’s work has been a joy to me, a solace, a proof that art can be made in New Zealand which shows ourselves in new ways.'
Geoff Cochrane died in November 2022. On his death, New Zealand's poet laureate Chris Tse wrote a poem for him in tribute titled "Starship (version)."
MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS
- Best New Zealand Poems 2003
- Best New Zealand Poems 2004
- Best New Zealand Poems 2005
- Best New Zealand Poems 2006
- Interview of Geoff Cochrane by Damien Wilkins from Sport 31: Spring 2003, at NZETC
- ANZL member profile
- Te Herenga Waka Press profile
- The Spinoff: Remembering Geoff Cochrane
Updated November 2022.