TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—16: JACK THACKER
Jack Thacker was born in 1989 and grew up on a small farm in Herefordshire. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines, including PN Review, Stand, The Clearing and Caught by the River, as well as on BBC Radio 4. In 2016, he won the Charles Causley International Poetry Competition. He has been poet in residence at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading and is currently the ArtfulScribe writer in residence at Lighthouse, Poole. His debut gathering of poems, Handling, was published by Two Rivers Press in 2018.
Jack Thacker writes:
I only started reading and writing poetry seriously in my early twenties, and the two practices have continued to inform each other ever since. I recall being in the second year of an English degree at the University of York and feeling a bit lost. What had started out as pure pleasure, the study of literature, had begun to feel a bit like a chore. I wasn’t getting the grades I hoped for and was finding writing essays increasingly difficult. Looking back now, I was probably burnt out, but at the time it felt like I was suddenly overthinking things, when before I had been able to trust my instincts.
One evening, when I was sitting idly reading, a voice entered my head. It sounded as though it was being spoken from underground, as if emerging from a badger sett or a warren. I couldn’t make out the words, but the sound of the voice, the gravity of it, felt familiar. For quite a while I couldn’t remember when or where I had heard it before. Then, suddenly, it dawned on me. In the very first seminar I had attended at York we had looked at a poem by Ted Hughes, one of his best-known poems, ‘The Thought Fox’, and I had listened to a recording of Hughes himself reading that poem on The Poetry Archive website in preparation for the seminar. It was unmistakable: the voice I could hear was Hughes’s.
This all sounds very Hughesian, doesn’t it – a tamer retelling of his own burnt fox dream, that talismanic origin story of ‘The Thought Fox’ and the moment Hughes decided, for the sake of his poetry, to switch from English to Anthropology. I stuck with English, and soon got back on track, but subliminal or not, whether genuine or a product of hindsight, I look back on that moment as significant in terms of my own awakening as a poet.
As soon as I placed Hughes’s voice, I returned to the recording and listened to him reading other poems as well. The real revelation came with ‘February 17th’, written during a period Hughes spent farming in Devon. Having grown up on a farm myself, I immediately recognised the scenario described in the poem – its messiness and its rawness. I had a go at writing my own poems about my upbringing on a farm. The first few were clearly pastiches of Hughes and Seamus Heaney, but I soon began to find my own voice, as it were.
I’ve spent a whole decade now writing those kinds of poems. They were the poems I absolutely had to write. Now that I’ve written them, I’m looking forward to writing about other subjects under different influences. The natural world will always be a rich source of inspiration, but my life is very different now. I’m always listening out for both new and old voices in case they should enter my head.
FOOT AND MOUTH
Lindsay Anderson (1955)
A farm somewhere in England, sometime
in Autumn. This is Bury Farm,
its crops, livestock (soon to be buried).
It’s November now. How to read
the signs but not commit yourself –
leave that to officials. For this calf,
too late. The whole thing’s deadly efficient:
a touch / a tyre / a train / a footprint.
The poetry survives. It’s not in the voice
explaining protocol, it lies in the face
of a woman watching (shots off-screen),
shot of a herd, of a vet, of a gun,
shot of an empty field on a hill,
shot of a farmer shot of it all.
‘I, Sheep’, a collaboration with filmmakers James Rattee and Teresa Murjas, from the Department of Film, Theatre and Television at the University of Reading, is a filmpoem created across two years, which interlaces poetry, film and performance to explore the relationship between intangible cultural heritage and sheep consciousness. It is part of the larger project at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading called The Museum of the Intangible funded by Arts Council England.
HOW DO YOU GRIEVE?
I knew a sister who lost her lambs
inside her. It took her
too long to recover –
her face was never the same.
She lost her wool, she lost
in truth, her purpose.
Day after day, she just stood there.
She absorbed them. That’s how we grieve
when we grieve
for the weather,
for ourselves in winter,
for the ground in the endless wet.
We spend our lives in mourning.
We never forget.
DOES THE SUNRISE STARTLE YOU?
Yes, every morning, every single one.
Nothing can prepare you for the arrival of the sun.