Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Stone Age - Jen Hadfield

It's publication day for Jen Hadfield's new collection of poems  - 'The Stone Age' and my plan was very much to get up early and write about it here, then do a piece for Shiny New Books. It's almost 11.30 and non of these things have happened yet. 

I've been reading this collection for a couple of weeks now, and reading about what Hadfield means when she talks about Neurodiversity, I have thoughts, but here I am not even a hundred words in, planning to slip off and make a coffee to procrastinate some more. I'm also due to write about Jen Feroze's collection 'The Colour of Hope' for a blog tour early next week, which will be easy by comparison, though I never find writing about poetry easy as such.

What I want to do with 'The Stone Age' is discuss it with other people who have read it, to test my opinions and responses against theirs. I found Hadfield's previous collection, 'Byssus' is one I've returned to many times over the years, and which now feels like an old friend. It still makes me put in a bit of work thinking about what it means to me, and what I think Hadfield means. the noticeable difference between it and 'The Stone Age' for me is that with 'Byssus' it feels right that it's an essentially private contemplation and with 'The Stone Age' I want conversation.

This starts with the blurbs attached to each book, 'Byssus' tells me that "she shows speech itself can be an act of home-making. Byssus is a profound consideration of just what it means to get to know a place." 'The Stone Age' blurb by comparison talks about panpsychism and of being "a timely reminder that our neurodiversity is a gift: we do not all see the world in the same way". Which is true, but whilst I welcome the opportunity to confound spellcheck with words like panpsychism which it refuses to recognise, there's a world between getting to know a place through somebody else's eyes and words, and trying to know  yourself through their words. 

That mention of neurodiversity on the back cover is hard to escape. After a little bit of searching I found this interview from July last year between Hadfield and Cat Chong for Guillemot Press which is informative and sent me brooding on the difference between blurbs and introductions. It's hard not to read the blurb before opening a book, and I vaguely resent the way this one is sitting with me. Though now I've actually written that down I think it's losing it's grip on me and I'm finding it easier to consider the poems.

So much easier that I've just deleted a line about how hard Hadfield makes me work to read her, because all at once it doesn't seem that hard at all, although I think she is a writer who does demand a certain amount of effort from her audience. It's something I'm out of practice at after a year of reading comfortable fiction, or non fiction which signposts everything it wants you to think about, but it feels surprisingly good to be making that effort again. And are there ever rewards for it.

I live next to a river that's full of swans. Fed on bread, and fearless, they belong very much to bank and water, seeming out of place when they take to the air, but the day this book arrived I'd watched a flight of them pass overhead. The last poem in the collection '(Sound travels so far') caught what it had been like to watch and listen to them overhead in such a perfect way I'll think of it every time I see such a thing. 'The Stone Age' is full of gifts like this; moments of clarity and sharp images.

For today the defining poem feels like 'Mortis and Tenon' though, which starts: "As soon as I decided to build a gate,/ the locked landscape uttered/ gates: gates I'd never noticed..." It sums up everything I feel about 'The Stone Age' at the moment. 


  1. Oh, I'm intrigued. I'm not a great poetry reader, and I hadn't clocked Jen Hadfield. But - maybe? I always like it when people write about why they like poems.

  2. I think she's remarkable (not alone in this, she's a much respected, T. S. Eliot prize winner and the latest book is a poetry book society choice) there are some older poems here and she reads some of the new ones on this Radio Shetland program (which I'm also on talking about blogging a little bit later)

    1. Thanks for the links! I'll look and listen to those. (And - you're on the radio, how cool!)

    2. I'm quite proud of not umming, ahhing, swearing, saying like a lot, or letting my voice rise to much at the end of sentences. It was a tough few minutes.