The Stone Age Jen Hadley
Published by Picador Poetry
I wrote last time about feeling like ‘a person’ through connections to place and community, and through the ways we communicate with them remember them and draw close. Jen Hadfield has a neurodivergent experience of being a person, and in The Stone Age she explores this. This is particularly fascinating to me, as my daughter was recently diagnosed as autistic. This has meant a radical reinterpretation of her history and current situation, and The Stone Age has provided an excellent commentary on the process.
Whereas the thrust of my thinking has been to expand my perception beyond the filters humans tend to impose on life, focussing not just on the human, but on the specific set of humans we recognise as ‘our people’, Hadfield struggles with the experience of having very few filters at all. Information about the world enters her mind in such a rush that it takes time to process:
Human communication is sometimes baffling to her – she describes feeling as if she is under an umbrella (Umbrella) and everyone else is out in the rain, breathing an atmosphere that would drown her, or broadcasting feelings like clanging bells, overwhelming her with incomprehensible alarm peals (Oyea). Yes, says my daughter, Like that.
Dolmen, Jen Hadfield
Valuable as this is to me, and maybe many other people, it would be inappropriate to simply mine this book for human interest. Hadfield uses this unfiltered, uncategorised experience of the world to produce stunning and original poetry. Limpet divorces our language from its usual human references to neediness or greed. A limpet becomes a whirling dynamic purposeful creature ‘an introvert/tornado —- in an ease of gypsy skirts’ who matches her shell to its rostrum, locks itself deliberately into place. Landscape in Dolmen is not the observed, in spite of its arresting opening:
Standing Stone, let’s
but an observer, saying –
are brief, soft
to go off at a moment’s
and in Gyö the usual romantic presentation of landscape as a metaphor for human emotional states, (as indeed it was in my poem which I posted last time) is reversed, as the Gyö uses as emotions as metaphors for facets of its own existence:
I say rage is a cold
cliff; longing, a skerry. Pleasure is a kelp-hung arch, glittered
constantly by the licking of the wave.
I found reading this book to be like looking at a mirror-image of my take on the human place in the world, which has a particular fascination, but it is so much more than that. Hadfield’s use of language is wide-ranging and adventurous but highly crafted, and a particular delight. Shetlandic words are used without comment or gloss, binding the poems closely to their home-place. There are some quirky uses of punctuation in this book, and unusual layouts and fonts, which I didn’t quite get until I tried to quote the first poem here. They work not only on a visual (rather than cognitive) level, but also in a kinetic way, as the labour of reproducing them on the page conveyed meaning I hadn’t grasped. Jen Hadfield is a multi-faceted, gifted artist and poet, and this book is a must-read.