Jean Sprackland's "Tilt", a poetry book review.
Jean Sprackland won the coveted Costa Poetry award for this, her third collection of poems. Most of the poems are written simply, others require just a little more concentration, but it feels like Jean has stuff to communicate, and wants to do so clearly for her readers.
The title "Tilt" refers to the tilting of the earth's axis, and the title poem is at the heart of what Jean is writing about - she is someone who seems to watch and think, and observes, and asks "what if" certain things happen geologically. For what it's worth, I'm an earth sign (Capricorn), and I felt particularly drawn to some of these poems. But there's water here too. The sea, and the way it relates to the earth (Ice on the Beach, Spilt) is a recurring theme. There's fire (Escape), and a scattering of metal throughout the book (fire escapes, an oil rig, Meccano, magnetite).
However the first poem in this book that really struck me was an unusually light and fresh one, Birthday Poem. The image of a roll of silk in a haberdasher's, spooling off its core, was simple yet memorable. It's totally fitting that the last word (spoiler alert!) is "Rapture." This poem is a reminder at how deep some of the incidental, seemingly trivial, joys in life can be.
The title poem, Tilt, in six parts, describes a changing tilt in the earth, and the chaos among man and beast that results. In the same accessible language that the shorter poems in the book use, an image or two are nonetheless grim:
... "the sand glitters with oil
like the fine mist of blood
a dying man would breathe
onto his friend's face and shirt."
There is a measured sort of violence in this poem, but it's one that leaves you in awe of the power of our planet, and the universe. This "tilt" is just a glitch in terms of our galaxy, but Sprackland connects us with the disorientation and upheaval that such events would bring to the routine of a turning earth and its inhabitants. I love the precision of this stanza:
"The birds calibrate, re-calibrate
the grains of magnetite in their heads
against their star-maps,
their clock of polarised sunlight -
but it's no good, south is cancelled."
The poem "Hands" studies the hands of a chip shop lady battering fish, and compares them to a midwife from the poet's memory of giving birth. It's a far more graceful poem than this description makes it sound, but there's also the visceral stuff about slipperiness. The poem, the birth, and the fish parcel are all neatly tied up by the last line, as the chip shop worker "makes hospital corners of my hot paper parcel."
A Phone Off the Hook
"A Phone Off the Hook" took me by surprise with its painfulness, anthropomorphising the feelings of disconnectedness that a phone off the hook would feel, should it have feelings. The abstraction of this image, and transference of feelings from disconnection in people, to this inanimate object, makes it an oddly raw, longing, poem.
The Map is Not the Territory
"The Map is Not the Territory", is a poem that explores a phrase from 20th century scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski, and his thinking behind it. What he is saying, is that a map is not the land it portrays. One is the physical and one is the representative; however accurate, the two are not the same. Sprackland explores this poetically through the medium of imagined pirates, mapmakers, and victims. Its links with philosophy make it a more challenging poem to explore and fully appreciate. The reader without background knowledge (like me!) might want to read a little on Korzybski and his work in order to gain added insight into this poem.
Here's a treat ...
This film was made for the 2007 Costa Poetry Award. Here, Jean reads from Tilt, often outside in the landscapes the poems evoke. She also shares some of her thoughts and working methods as a writer.
Costa Poetry Award Video
All in all this book is not about sweet things - there's sweat and struggle, and a slight feeling of loss of control over our destiny. Even some near-death experiences. But there are touching moments, and the last poem The Engine, included in Jean's reading in the film above, is more empowering, reminding us that we are metal cogs in the all-powerful universe, and are part of its force too:
"Me and my incalculable strength.
I kicked the city pavement
and set the world spinning."
Jean Sprackland's "Tilt"
Difficulty of Language
Difficulty of Concepts
Who Will LIke This Book?
Good, clear language.
Sometimes the poems' content comes across clearly on first reading, sometimes less so, but they are never brain-numbingly difficult.
For all its hard and stony edges, for the most part this book comes across with the "voice" of a woman. If you like the elements, raw nature, and a bit of passion and darkness, you will like this book.
Tilt (Book & Kindle version) on Amazon