A night with Jean Sprackland on her Green Noise book launch
· Jean tells us about her new book Green Noise
· NQ describes the book launch event
· We take a look at poetry and culture in Manchester
As Jean Sprackland approached me with her poetry style smile I could see already that the interview ahead was going to be a good one, it seems she has immersed herself in so much poetry that it flows through her. Just by standing next to her one can tell how much poetry means to her, the whole event is another milestone crossed for Jean. Before Jean even opened her mouth to speak anticipation filled my mind, you see for those of you reading this and wondering who this Jean I speak of is… I am talking about the multi award winning poet whom has received highly recognised awards such as the Costa poetry award (for her poetry book Tilt in, 2007) and many more nominations for her other seven published works, her book Tilt got translated into Spanish for the South American audience of Chile this year, so readership stretches across the globe.
In fact, she has amassed so much recognition from her poetry that wherever she goes poetic excitement comes with her.
Here is what the great Carol Ann Duffy has to say about her book Hard Water “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.” This says it all really, there is an excellent range of poetry in Jean’s pieces and the way she explores each theme is remarkable, always managing to make all poems flow together creating an almost orchestra of poetry in one collection!
Currently she is a Professor for Creative Writing in Manchester Metropolitan University and a curator of https://www.poetryarchive.org/explore Jean shows us again and again how highly she values literature and in particular creative writing, she believes that it is paramount we save poetry for everyone to access because ‘The Archive plays an important cultural heritage role’ as she explains to me, Jean is a woman who knows what she wants to say and has the elegance and technique to deliver it either in writing or by speech.
When I asked Jean what the event was going to be about tonight she answers excitedly “It's a launch for my new book, Green Noise - a chance to celebrate publication and share some of the poems with an audience of friends and poetry-lovers. A poetry book is a slow thing - it takes years to develop and come to publication, so it should be celebrated.”, and indeed all of the people who have gathered to witness this celebration of poetry know how special the night ahead of us is going to be; no one here will leave the room the same, her poetry will surely penetrate every heart in the audience.
As you can see the event means a huge deal to Jean, as she said it is about coming together to celebrate poetry which has taken a long time to compile. Events like this one promote cultural growth in Manchester because they allow for anyone interested in poetry, and even those seeking poetry enlightenment to delight and rejoice in a more intimate setting than elsewhere.
Everyone began to take their seats in the small ambient theatre and I found myself being drawn in by the almost overwhelming sense of being in an old-style cinema, with big and comfortable seating all around to sink yourself into whilst indulging in fine poetic art work, red curtains in the background helped to bring an extra level of cosiness, and everywhere one looked the same feel was perceived; smooth and intimate vibrations gained with every intake of scenery. I think Jean chose this location well as it proved to be excellent in hosting such a delicate evening. The acoustics were perfectly balanced (so much so in fact that one could almost hear themselves think) It would have been difficult to find another location as suited like this in Manchester.
The event was organised by the MMU Writing School itself and they were really proud with how the night turned out, not an empty seat was in sight, and the audience deeply in awe of Jean’s performance; so much so that Jean had to stop to check if everyone was still okay, she joked that the theatre room was so quiet it was unnerving. It was clear to see that a lot of planning went into the night and what a positive outcome it gave fruit to!
It strikes me straight away from the book cover of Green Noise which Jean is holding in her left hand the poetry within it is going to be predominantly about Nature, and as she later reveals I was correct, the book cover is actually a half mechanical and half insect design which Jean’s friend specialises in creating. The book title was derived from white noise, green noise is the sounds nature makes, and we as humans hardly stop to give it a moment’s notice. I believe the book attempts to give nature the credit and recognition it deserves, and it achieves it very well.
Jean has been “writing about 'the natural world' and our human place in it” for a long time. Her Inspiration comes from “looking, listening, taking time to observe and notice things.” And, when I start to listen to her poems this is very apparent, with her very detailed accounts of simple events occurring. I feel that there is so much depth in her poetry that one can keep on reading it and seeing new ideas not seen before, like a Russian doll revealing more and more layers as the poem gets explored further.
With all of the careful observations Jean does… I wonder what she has observed about her audience tonight?
Her opening poem set the pace for the rest as the night grew older, the flawless rehearsing of it added to the already powerful poem, heart and soul were attached to every word in Jean’s poem. The people at Costa awards were not wrong in giving her the award, she makes it obvious as to why she has won so many awards just from one poem; the magic of Green Noise is that any adult can find a suitable poem for their palate, soothing to say the least.
Later, me and Jean got talking about poetry and culture in Manchester and I asked Jean to compared Manchester with London in regard to the poetry scene she commented that “Manchester has a very vibrant poetry scene, with a dazzling range of events going on every week and more than its fair share of poets and spoken word artists.” But, went onto say “The only difference, I think, is that London is a much bigger city, and everything is more diffuse. Both cities are full of poets, and both populations are very diverse and mobile - the poets I know come from all over the UK and from other parts of the world too, and it’s that rich mix that helps make the poetry life of a place exciting.”
So, it looks like Manchester is doing quite well for poetry and apart from the size of the city, therefore a smaller capacity to house as many poets as London does Mancunians everywhere should be proud of their city.
Linking back to the topic of culture and poetry, is there one without the other? Do they go hand in hand? Well, Jean seems to think so because to her; “Poetry is a form of culture, in just the same way that film is, or theatre, or music.” Culture is a timeless topic which is always talked about in Manchester, some even call it the culture capital of the North West and it is nice to hear words of appraisal which help re-affirm the view of Manchester as a thriving cultural capital filled with literature and arts.
Also, talking in more detail around the poetry archive Jean stated that “It was the brainchild of the then Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, and I was part of the team which set it up. I've been closely involved with it in different ways ever since.” She gives due credit to the thinker behind the archive and goes onto say “It's a project which found its moment - there were lots of recordings of poets reading their work, but they were scattered all over the place and on different formats - vinyl, cassette, and so on. In the 90s I used to go to the Poetry Library on the Southbank in London and put on headphones and listen to some of them. But then the internet came along, and it was suddenly possible to bring all that material together and make it available to anyone who wanted to hear it, wherever they were in the world.”
It is important to note that the event did not have an interval half-way across, however as it were it was hard to stop listening to the poetry and an interval would have taken away from the night rather than add to it.
With all this talk about poetry I started to wonder what poetry actually meant for Jean and how she distinguished it from any other form of creative writing here is what she had to say “The problem with definitions is that you can always find an exception. Also, there are many writers who work across the boundary between poetry and prose, and some books are difficult to classify as one or the other. I would say that poetry is more reflexive, by which I mean that poetic language is interested in itself, in the way it works. That's why poets are so obsessive about finding precisely the 'right' word. According to the old joke, a day's work for a poet consists of taking out a comma in the morning and putting it back in the afternoon.” So, Jean is a firm believer that poetry is something which one reflects on, and she has no set definition for it as it shouldn’t be boxed off into a certain definition bracket.
Jean gathers her inspiration from; “Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Louis MacNeice, TS Eliot, David Jones. Among my contemporaries I greatly admire Fiona Benson, Jacob Polley, Jane Hirshfield, Sharon Olds, Jamie McKendrick and many others”
As the night came to a reluctant end, the immense applause lit up the theatre and along with it Jeane’s face. A lovely night that could have not gone any better even if pre-rehearsed.
When I asked members of the audience how they felt after the performance one answered; I liked the event and listening to everything was like a refreshing stroll through the woods, exploring nature through non-judgemental eyes, the poetry really captivated me and took me back to different times in my life for example in one of the poems I was instantly able to connect with its heart and it ended up catapulting me into childhood times!, another person added; I did not want the event to reach closure because it was so inspiring, I knew Jean’s work was amazing but she has really hit the nail on the head with this collection of poetry about the great outdoors, I will make sure I buy her book outside.
All around me the same people that entered the room left in a different way, as summed up by different audience members the night was truly one to remember, it had everything one wished for from a poetry book reading and more! When Jean releases her next book I will be expecting it with baited breath.