Jean Harrison and Terrain + Nancy and the snowdrops

Jean Harrison is the new Featured Writer. Her new book, Terrain is published by Cinnamon. Terrain is sharply observant, wry and tender at the same time, its cover so aptly suits the poems. I met Jean on a course some years ago in Yorkshire (where I was born and bred  and where she now lives) and we walked together on the moors. I recall she said something like ‘Don’t try to write a poem.’ That’s what I remember anyway! Wonderful advice, it is…(try altering the stresses in that line). She herself never wastes a single word and her poems need reading with the eye of a hawk.

Talking of which, I dreamt of a peregrine last night. Last time I really saw one was another snowy day this February under a brilliant azure sky. And the daytime moon was shining snow-whitely in the sky as if there had been a blizzard up there. A peregrine came into view and flew right over my head and under the moon and, looking up, it seemed to me the barring of its underbelly gleamed very white.

In the present Unspring I wanted to find out about how some particular snowdrops were faring in this bitter cold and the smattering of Dartmoor snow. But first let me explain: near where we live is a ruined farmhouse and because it feels haunted I’ve attempted to find things out about it – no more than anyone still alive can remember, so not much to go on. It is now like a large stone container of birch, sycamore and hazel trees. The chimney stack has collapsed and you can walk through the old doorway and then climb through the rooms. Even sixty years ago an old man lived alone in the already derelict building until the roof fell in. The local farmer kept a weather eye on him.

During the 1800s a family had farmed the land there for a couple of generations. They must have prospered because someone planted a lilac tree, a lime tree and a slightly exotic pine. During the downturn in agriculture in the latter part of that century the farmer took to gambling on horses and after he lost everything one day at the races killed himself, maybe throwing himself from the train. (I don’t know how I found that bit.) His widow, Nancy and the children stayed on for another four or so years until they had to move away, loading up a cart with their belongings. What sad day for them it would have been. The house remained empty thereafter…. except for the old man of course, and two old women who used to come for one day every year, arriving and leaving by taxi. Were they two of the daughters who were once forced to leave their childhoods behind? In the hedge down there, I found the frame of a very old lounge chair that I fancied they had kept for that day. In the spring and summer the place is full of roe deer and if you sit quietly a fox or a badger will nip past.

But now it is full of snowdrops. They run wild in the old trackway and in the hedges: a very tall, late-flowering and strongly scented variety with quite long petals. I imagine Nancy cultivated them to make bunches which she sold at the local market each week to make a few extra pennies. Snowdrops must be one of the toughest of flowers and yet serve us to epitomise fragility. My own snowdrops have collapsed and I wonder if, when it warms a little, they will rediscover their back bone and stand tall. By contrast, the ones at the ruined farmhouse look almost untouched. Yesterday evening they looked pale violet.

snowdrops2DSC00501March sky


About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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12 Responses to Jean Harrison and Terrain + Nancy and the snowdrops

  1. E.E. Nobbs says:

    The peregrine dream! Wonderful.
    Have to go to work now…will read the rest of your post later today.
    E x

  2. I wrote a comment, Becky, but it’s disappeared! I’ll try again later, or am I being censored?!

  3. E.E. Nobbs says:

    I like very much your rememberings, research and imaginings and connections about the ruined homestead – especially the bit about the two old women coming for a day each years. I grew up next to a falling in old house & barn – my parents bought that additional long narrow 100 acres strip back in the sixties when the old bachelor and his spinster sister died. But it was full of treasures and junk and remnants and mystery and persistent plants such as daffodils, even danger (rotting floors and high lofts and dark cellars) so it was a big part of my childhood! Your post has reminded me of the old place – that we always referred to “going down to Edwin’s” – because that long narrow 100 acres was all down in the valley and our land was on the top of the line of hills. Thanks, Becky.

    Elly x

  4. E.E. Nobbs says:

    Just read Jean Harrison’s two poems – loved them both for their wit and intelligence. Thanks for the introduction to her.

  5. This is a poignant and evocative post, Becky. I love your descriptions of the old farmhouse – the details and texture of the place and the people are so well evoked. I’m sure there’s a novel in there somewhere.
    I remember meeting Jean Harrison on the course in Yorkshire and loving her poetry. I’ve just read the two on here – she has that wonderful gift of revealing something complex while saying something apparently simple.

  6. Another Cinnamon Press poet! Jean’s collection is excellent and she has been working with me to publicise the great work done by Jan Fortune and Cinnamon. See the Cinnamon Friends page on the Cinnamon Press website if you feel you can help to keep this innovative press in business.

  7. mavisgulliver says:

    It’s two years since you wrote this, Becky and I’ve revisited it to read again about the snowdrops. As my ‘birthday flower’ I have always found the first ones in early January but this year – 2016 – they a month late. I’m away from home and have been told they’ll be at their best when I return home to Islay on the 10th February. And thanks for the reminder about Jean’s Terrain – I shall be revisiting that too.

  8. Strange that yours are late this year. Ours were early because of mild winter. The ones down at the ruined farmhouse are only just coming out but I must go and check them again. Sadly, I got banned from roaming the fields…. I only have a part- time temporary permission to go only now and then to that place. Two years ago I went all over the place. I don’t know what I did wrong.

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