Though firmly rooted in the domestic, natural world, Jean Sprackland's poems are thrilling excursions into the lives that we live alongside our everyday ones: the lives we are aware of in dreams, in grief, in love. She shows us the vertigo and vulnerability of human experience with great clarity and precision, tenderness and care.
These are vivid poems full of light and weather and water: a flooded forest, acid rain, an inland tidal wave, an ocean of broken glass; jellyfish washed up on the beach that 'lay like saints/ unharvested, luminous'.
There is an arresting imagination at work here, one as relaxed and at home in an alternative world of babies in filing cabinets, light collectors or the visiting dead, as it is in the world we think we know: supermarkets, empty flats, the A580 from Liverpool to Manchester. Lucid, sensuous and informed by an unusually tactile curiosity, the poems in Hard Water mark the assured arrival of an important poet.
I tried the soft stuff on holiday in Wales,
a mania of teadrinking and hairwashing,
excitable soap which never rinsed away,
but I loved coming home to this.
Flat. Straight. Like the vowels,
like the straight talk: hey up me duck.
I’d run the tap with its swimming-pool smell,
get it cold and anaesthetic. Stand the glass
and let the little fizz of anxiety settle.
Honest water, bright and not quite clean.
The frankness of limestone, of gypsum,
the sour steam of cooling towers,
the alchemical taste of brewing.
On pitiless nights, I had to go for the bus
before last orders. I’d turn up my face,
let rain scald my eyelids and lips.
It couldn’t lie. Fell thick
with a payload of acid. No salt —
this rain had forgotten the sea.
I opened my mouth, speaking nothing
in spite of my book-learning.
I let a different cleverness wash my tongue.
It tasted of work, the true taste
of early mornings, the blunt taste
of don’t get mardy, of too bloody deep for me,
fierce lovely water that marked me for life
as belonging, regardless.