Hard Water

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.

This second collection establishes Jean Sprackland as a definite new talent. The poems in Hard Water have the exhilarating quality of freshness and truth: poems of memory and place, religion and childhood, captured with relish in a textured and physical language. Added to this are a gift for the colloquial and a subtle, sexy humour. This is a hugely enjoyable collection by a poet writing with clear gusto and authority. Buy it — and then buy it for a friend.
— Carol Ann Duffy
Jean Sprackland’s poems reinvent the world with a wicked, mischievous magic. Delighting in unsettling narratives and transformations, she turns the familiar landscape of everyday life into something instantly more compelling and mysterious — often anxious and troubling, but always thrilling. There is undeniable beauty at the dark heart of these poems.
— Neil Rollinson
Hard Water
By Jean Sprackland

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.


Hard Water

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.