Book review: Strand
FORTY-nine chocolate bar wrappers, two clothes pegs, one shuttlecock, a “Happy Birthday” banner, a document wallet and a Bart Simpson pencil were among the mentionable pieces of litter Jean Sprackland discovered on an hour’s stroll through the dunes on a beach in north Lancashire in 2010.
It takes a poet to work the full list into a paean to the great British foreshore.
Sprackland spent a year living behind the shifting sands between Liverpool and Blackpool, and the resulting collection of essays is a wonderful window on the marvels of the natural world. But it’s much more than that.
For a poet, each day, and each season, throws up fresh images to conjure with. In the harsh December of 2010, Sprackland struggles through snowdrifts to reach the shore, where the white-black-grey striped horizon reminds her of a Mark Rothko painting at the point when he gave up on colour.
By contrast, the long, iridescent green and bronze hairs of a weird furry creature she identifies as a sea mouse, sets her thinking of the glorious optical illusion produced by phototonic crystals, and lines from a poem by American Amy Clampitt: “The orphanage of possibility / has had to be expanded to / admit the sea mouse”.
A solitary teacup from the third-class dining room of the Queen Mary, a jellyfish, the mast of a famous wreck, a lugworm, a sea potato, two messages in bottles, human footprints from the Neolithic era – each discovery sparks an insight, a scientific nugget or a slice of social history.
Not all are entertaining diversions: a 20-year-old Marathon bar wrapper produces a chapter on manmade substances that makes truly alarming reading.
Sprackland is drawn to the images and associations of fellow poets, from Coleridge’s Rime Of The Ancient Mariner albatross to John Masefield’s stormy “flung spray and blown spume” ocean.
But it’s the poet in Sprackland that makes this beachcomber’s journal stand out: each sentence is as cunningly crafted as a piece of drift- wood, a lyrical tribute to the meeting place of land and sea.
Strand: A Year Of Discoveries On The Beach
Jonathan Cape, £16.99
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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