Validate Me – Charly Cox review by Zoe Makin
Written by: Zoe Makin
Radio Sheffield’s Sam Cleasby met with poet Charly Cox on World Mental Health Day to
talk social media, #selfcare and how to avoid men in public. Aged just twenty-four, Charly
grew up using social media, and her latest collection Validate Me explores the culture in
which it’s easier to get ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ than meaningful help.
Charly actively supports MQ’s research into mental health, but far from simply using this as a
trendy hashtag, Charly is critical of companies that capitalise on mental illness. Her poem
Self Care confronts our habit of presenting our lives as perfect. We pose for contrived
pictures embellished with branded items, even on days when we feel like eating chicken
nuggets and crawling back into bed (Charly’s anecdote there). A similar cynicism of the
‘body positivity’ trend informed her previous collection, she must be mad.
Charly performed three poems from Validate Me, starting with 141, whose roots are in a
relationship which started- you guessed it- online. The poem reflects the collection’s title: the
speaker calls an ex after four years; she is reaching out for something, looking for validation
but doesn’t quite know what to say when he picks up. It is dialogue in darkness; a reader can
see their teenage self sitting in bed, daring themselves to call that familiar number we know
won’t do us any good.
Broken Abacus is just as painfully familiar. Any woman who’s ever been out in public by
herself knows what it’s like to receive unsolicited attention. We make that split-second
decision; do I entertain this interest with all its risks, or politely decline while respecting his
ego and therefore my safety? The ‘abacus’ refers to the moving of rings ‘right to left’,
because an adorned engagement ring finger shouts; I’m taken! We all know women who do
this; because it is ‘less morbid/ to suggest I’ve already found love’. Broken Abacus is a
reflection on the politics of flirting today. Charly’s speaker is a self-conscious woman
second-guessing where a relationship is going, only to find it’s gone.
The final poem Charly treated us to was something different, but equally poignant. The
Conception examines what childhood means today, now that ‘kiss chase is long gone’, and
many children can navigate iPads and Twitter before reaching secondary school. Despite a
peppering of humour and delicious depictions of parental love, the poem’s message is stark:
the proliferation of social media means childhood is changing rapidly.
These ultra-modern concerns give Charly’s work more than an echo of one of her influences,
Kate Tempest. The same can be said of her effective use of internal rhyming, which infuses
her poetry with an energy making it best read aloud. Charly’s use of dialogue and the direct
‘I’ makes it personal and scarily relatable. Her poetry has an unmistakeable sense of nowness
perfect for the digital age.