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Fan-Peckled, by Jean Atkin, illustrated by Katy Alston

Fair Acre Press, 2021    £12.00

Wonderful to read aloud

Word-lovers will relish reading these poems out loud. Jean Atkin has selected twelve words from Georgina Frederica Jackson’s Shropshire Word-Book, an 1879 glossary of archaic country terms and, using a similar approach to Robert MacFarlane’s The Lost Words, written a poem featuring each one.

Katy Alston’s gorgeous illustrations combine with Jean Atkin’s well-tuned ear to recreate a bygone age I can’t help but yearn for as I read the poems and linger with the illustrations. The book’s larger than most poetry pamphlets (a 216 x 216mm square paperback), with a full-page colour illustration for each poem.

Just a few of the titles will give you a sense of the world we’re returning to here: ‘Buts and Feerings’ (wet or dry furrows made by a plough); ‘Lady-with-the-Ten-Flounces’ (a goldfinch); ‘Clicket’ (the fastening of a gate); ‘Shalligonaked’ (a light outdoor jacket); ‘Noon-Spell’ (a labouring man’s lunchtime).

The title poem, ‘Fan-Peckled’, is one of my favourites. The word means ‘freckled’, and the poet plays wonderfully with sound-associations. She does this with such skill, that it took me several readings before I noticed just how many ‘k’ sounds occur in the poem: speckled, oak, deckled, tickled, crinkled, kitchen, wrinkled, pickled, cockle shell, barnacled. Here are two stanzas to give you a sense of how she uses them in context:

Then morning fetched a dot-dance in the woods
of deckled oak leaves and the bee-pad
footfalls, pollen-tickled, in the foxglove.

[…]

And in the kitchen was the freckled flesh
of wrinkled Bramleys in the pan,
small-chopped and pickled.

For me, the poems recall John Clare and Edward Thomas, while the title poem nods respectfully to Pied Beauty by Gerald Manley Hopkins: ‘Whatever is fickle, freckled. (Who knows how?)’.

Jean Atkin uses her knowledge of English nature poetry with confident skill, weaving its echoes together with the old country words to create her own rich, evocative poems. To read them out loud, and to hear these lost words speak again, is pure pleasure.

Annie Fisher

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