Tuesday 5 October 2021

Review by Tracey Foster of "Fan-Peckled: Twelve Old Shropshire Words in Poems and Pictures" by Jean Atkin and Katy Alston

The smooth, matt cover of this illustrated book of poems gives a hint to the landscape of texture within. The onomatopoeic sounds of gates closing with a ‘clicket’ and footprints tramped through ‘slud’ echo through the lanes, hedges, skies and streams of these old paths. We get to feel the earth between our very fingers, ‘grey clay marbled with yellow’ as it ‘clarts’ up behind the heavy horses’ hooves. We feel the warm air of long summers past as the red kites take to flight ‘like a loaf rising,’ and we watch field furrows, dreaming of ‘the golden rustle of next summer’s wheat.’

Katy Alston’s grainy pencil sketches, splashed with wet tints, sit beside the words and capture images of a Shropshire past: narrow barges, shire horses, dappled undergrowth and red kites overhead. She uses a muted pallet to convey a disappearing pastoral life, as beautifully described in 'Noon-spell,' where a resting labourer, watches the sunlight on the cobbles:

          How the sun, in an odd trick,
          is spelling time to turn 
          a man from cartwright to mechanic.


The native dialogue is annotated with simple footnotes that explain the colloquialisms, giving us a deeper understanding of the poems, which were originally inspired by The Shropshire Word-Book: A Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words (Georgina F. Jackson, 1879). This is an exercise in keeping alive our ancient words, much championed by author Robert Macfarlane, who advocates the retelling of our forgotten lexicons - ‘language is fossil poetry’ - and who would no doubt applaud this exercise. 

Twelve expressions taken from the Word-Book are the starting point for the poems:

  • Buts and Feerings - a number of furrows ploughed onto the land
  • Lady-With-The-Ten-Flounces - a child’s term for a goldfinch
  • Clicket - the fastening of a gate
  • Fan-Peckled - to be freckled
  • Keffel - a worthless horse
  • Talking to Moments - mumbling to yourself
  • Geolitudes - a burst of temper
  • Shalligonaked - a useless, thin overcoat
  • Glid - term for the Red Kite
  • Noon-Spell - a labourer’s lunch time
  • A Corve of Oddlings - a wicker basket of many things


From Fan-Peckled:

         Last night there were the speckled lakes
         On a sickle moon not watched
         Nor wished upon through glass.

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

A collaboration of poet and artist, this is a lovely collection that is a timely diversion from modern problems and will apply a balm to the mind, through language, image and texture.

About the reviewer
Tracey Foster has been teacher of Art and Design in schools in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland for over 40 years. She took part in the Comma Press short story course in 2019 and had a short story published in a collection, Tales from Garden Street. She had a poem about Covid published by BusPoetry Magazine and has since commenced an MA in Creative writing at Leicester University. 

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