Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer

Jen Hadfield

  • The Stone Age Jen Hadley

    Published by Picador Poetry

    I wrote last time about feeling like ‘a person’ through connections to place and community, and through the ways we communicate with them remember them and draw close. Jen Hadfield has a neurodivergent experience of being a person, and in The Stone Age she explores this. This is particularly fascinating to me, as my daughter was recently diagnosed as autistic. This has meant a radical reinterpretation of her history and current situation, and The Stone Age has provided an excellent commentary on the process.
    Whereas the thrust of my thinking has been to expand my perception beyond the filters humans tend to impose on life, focussing not just on the human, but on the specific set of humans we recognise as ‘our people’, Hadfield struggles with the experience of having very few filters at all. Information about the world enters her mind in such a rush that it takes time to process:

    the world is always 
hurrying me along the headrush
heavens dirl round my anchor
see your lives flare
		and softly fade
but while you press me for my 
	I’m still considering
Your first question

    Human communication is sometimes baffling to her – she describes feeling as if she is under an umbrella (Umbrella) and everyone else is out in the rain, breathing an atmosphere that would drown her, or broadcasting feelings like clanging bells, overwhelming her with incomprehensible alarm peals (Oyea). Yes, says my daughter, Like that.

    Valuable as this is to me, and maybe many other people, it would be inappropriate to simply mine this book for human interest. Hadfield uses this unfiltered, uncategorised experience of the world to produce stunning and original poetry. Limpet divorces our language from its usual human references to neediness or greed. A limpet becomes a whirling dynamic purposeful creature ‘an introvert/tornado —- in an ease of gypsy skirts’ who matches her shell to its rostrum, locks itself deliberately into place. Landscape in Dolmen is not the observed, in spite of its arresting opening:
    Standing Stone, let’s
    Talk about

    Dolmen, Jen Hadfield

    but an observer, saying –
    are brief, soft
    fireworks, prone
    to go off at a moment’s

    and in Gyö the usual romantic presentation of landscape as a metaphor for human emotional states, (as indeed it was in my poem which I posted last time) is reversed, as the Gyö uses as emotions as metaphors for facets of its own existence:
    I say rage is a cold
    cliff; longing, a skerry. Pleasure is a kelp-hung arch, glittered
    constantly by the licking of the wave.

    I found reading this book to be like looking at a mirror-image of my take on the human place in the world, which has a particular fascination, but it is so much more than that. Hadfield’s use of language is wide-ranging and adventurous but highly crafted, and a particular delight. Shetlandic words are used without comment or gloss, binding the poems closely to their home-place. There are some quirky uses of punctuation in this book, and unusual layouts and fonts, which I didn’t quite get until I tried to quote the first poem here. They work not only on a visual (rather than cognitive) level, but also in a kinetic way, as the labour of reproducing them on the page conveyed meaning I hadn’t grasped. Jen Hadfield is a multi-faceted, gifted artist and poet, and this book is a must-read.

  • Nigh-No-Place

    I’m just re-reading Jen Hadfield’s Nigh-No-Place because I’m going to see her read on Thursday at SCoP, Stirling University on Thursday. I’m finding them very interesting, they start arguments in my head, conversations about geography and poems about wind and rock-pools.
    For all the collection is called Nigh-No-Place, the poems seem very much rooted in the places she is in, Alberta or Shetland, growing from deep awareness of the specifics of weather and landscape – snow, wind and hail, ‘hacked wet chunk of mountain,”fences strung with trembling streamers’.
    They are embodied sensual poems, full of light, sound and movement, popping gravel and ice in a glass like the notes of a mandolin, like the sound of a train passing, swirling hail, the way the salmon’s sinuous fighting upstream echoes the movement of the river’s meanders, the blinks of sunlight you register a lot when warmth is fitful and fickle.
    I especially liked Daed-traa :
    ‘I go to the rock-pool at the slack of the tide
    to mind me what my poetry’s for’
    which is fabulous.
    It reminds me a lot of my Digging for Bait, – one of the Eurydice Rising poems, which makes me think again about the myths I was hatching about the differences between male and female attitudes towards the writing of poems. I might post it here later, but not today. Today I want to make you think about Jen Hadfield’s poems. Go read some.

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