Poetry Review: 'Fleet' by Jane Burn
The poetic tale of a shapeshifting hare reviewed on Mother's Day
Fleet is a joy – a sheer rush of magical realism in a poetic drama that explores the theme of identity by focusing on a mother-daughter relationship, in part through the lens of motherhood. Jane Burn presents a figure of folklore, the witch-hare, in a fable for the modern world with a voice reminiscent of Native American writers. Her shifts between the marvellous and reality, the strange and the ordinary are skilful and seamless.
Written and illustrated by Jane Burn, Fleet is published by Wyrd Harvest Press (2018).
On the surface this is a coming of age tale. When Fleet, described by her mother as ‘odd-witch’, reaches her seventeenth year, she exercises her right to follow her desires and venture away from Motherdoe and the sanctuary of home. In doing so, she encounters all that her mother fears.
Mothers will identify with the sorrow, when Motherdoe struggles to cope with her daughter's wants in adolescence, and mournfully recalls how she could once make her smile, ‘just by jiggling acorn shells/ when [she] cried.'
Readers will recognise Fleet’s longing to break free from her mother's constraints. Pain that is inextricably linked with change, and change that is inextricably linked with pain are finely tuned in Fleet’s story that spans generations.
Burn reveals a recognisable world preoccupied with image and conformity
However, this is more than Fleet’s tale of physical and psychological growth. By presenting otherness and marginalisation through the body and mind of a shapeshifting witch-hare, Burn reveals a recognisable world preoccupied with image and conformity. It is a world where difference is judged. It is a place where the metaphorical, ‘potholed road’ divides. Fleet is labelled by Otherdoes as, 'strange...queer...alien'. Conscious of her differences, she says, 'I was afraid of myself.'
Through her unique language, Burn interrogates conflicting aspects of human behaviour: brutality and liberality. She magnifies human existence in the internal monologues of her mythical creatures. Violent and compassionate natures appear in lyrical profusion, while joy and sorrow collide.
Rhythms of life and of those who live in harmony with the earth flow through exquisite, inventive language, such as Fleet’s acknowledgment that she grew from a spark, and at first:
'looked like dots and scribbles.
A mollusc, a dugong, then
a squabbed mouse, snips for ears…'
and in Motherdoe’s recollection of her pregnancy, when she:
'coughed at flakes from the husk of natrix skin
choked on sounds of invisibly moving wheat…'
Although no technology appears in the narrative, its absence makes it a keen presence for me. A generation ago, it was not possible for young people to engage with an unregulated, virtual world of influence in the privacy of their bedrooms, or communicate online with strangers, alone. To bring the outside world into personal space via phones and tablets, away from parents, is an integral part of modern youth culture. In these closed spaces, the young may ask questions resembling Fleet's: 'Can you maybe make me / more like you? / Can you / make Him love me? Change me...' In an era where readiness for the adult world is crucial, Fleet is relevant.
In an era where readiness for the adult world is crucial, Fleet is relevant.
Intricate themes thread through the narrative. Enabling our children to dare to be different, and navigate their relationships while anticipating dangers that lurk in adolescence, is at the fore. However, helping a child to cope with negative consequences of their decisions is also at the heart of Burn's tale. I see it as a hopeful story. It encourages active listening between generations. It underlines the point that we choose what defines us. In the raising of a child, it captures the flux of the mother-child relationship. Above all, the drama in 'Fleet' emphasises that whatever tools a mother keeps in her toolbox, unconditional love is indispensable in this modern world.
Jane Burn is a multi-award winning poet. Her poems are published in many magazines and anthologies. She co-edited the Culture Matters: Witches, Warriors, Workers women’s poetry anthology with Fran Lock. Yan, Tan, Tether and nothing more to it than bubbles are both published by Indigo Dreams. Her recent full collection, Be Feared, is published by Nine Arches Press.
Jane Burn Twitter: Jane Burn (The Real One) @Jane Burn 11
And a Poem from Walter de la Mare
In the black furrow of a field
I saw an old witch-hare this night;
And she cocked her lissome ear,
And she eyed the moon so bright,
And she nibbled o' the green;
And I whispered 'Whsst! witch-hare,'
Away like a ghostie o'er the field
She fled, and left the moonlight there.
Walter de la Mare, Source: THE HARE by Walter de la Mare - poem for children https://www.poems4free.com/THEHARE.html
Links to Margaret Adkins Writing:
Margaret Adkins started writing when her nursing and midwifery career came to an end in 2015 after thirty-six years. She become a full-time student at the University of Worcester. She gained a BA (Hons) in Creative Writing & English Literature and an MRes in Theatre & Performance. Winner of the inaugural University of Worcester V. Press Prize, her debut poetry pamphlet Mingled Space is published by V. Press (2019).