Book Review: Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare by Wendy Pratt

A Three Drops Review

Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare by Wendy Pratt

[Reviewed by Caroline Hardaker]

Wendy Pratt’s pamphlet is a bewitching collection, linking together witchcraft and the natural world with the emotional processing involved in losing of an unborn child. It’s such an unusual collection, and quite an abstract way of dealing with such a serious theme. It’s quite a short collection made up of 14 poems, and this works well in that it’s easier to feel the intrinsic links between the pieces.

The poems in the collection have a real mix of contexts, but Pratt’s accessible but thoughtful use of language ties them all together seamlessly. The context of the poems fluctuate between the mundane everyday and the mythical, creating the feel of a colourful multi-layered world. The first poem ‘How to Find Spaces to Lose Things in’ reveals gradually this sense of loss, and is revealed when we see the examining of maternity clothes and scan photos. Similarly, in ‘Bag’, the narrator’s emotions keep flicking back to her feeling of loss and increased loneliness; ‘Don’t leave me now, for imaginings of flight’. In ‘In the Bathroom’, loss is also couple with a sense of foreboding, and fate:

‘Out of the dark to sit, tiny and significant,
a faint pink line, too slow
in my palm. She was always too tiny
and too slow. I’m glad we didn’t know it then.’

Through the collection, we see Nan Hardwicke being chased and hunted. In the poem of the title name she literally becomes the hare, rooting herself in its belly and stretching out limbs to inhabit its body: ‘I slipped/ into the hare like a nude foot/ into a glorious slipper’. Perhaps then, a potential overarching theme of the collection is of ‘inhabiting’. As Nan stretches out into the hare, she uncurls from its core, reaching out into the legs, the skull, so the skin is worn like a glove. Given the theme of the loss of an unborn child, Nan’s inhabiting of the hare mirrors the carrying of an unborn child, and how that child (though curled in the womb) reaches out to the mother she carries a child in every part of herself. Furthermore, as Nan seemingly takes over the hare, perhaps Pratt is suggesting that a mother-to-be’s actions are often driven by her child within her. Conversely, the wonderful line:

‘to hold another’s soul in the mouth like an egg’

suggests that as Nan inhabits the hare, the hare is also an integral part of Nan. The hare itself is free, fast, and very much a creature of the physical world, much like a mother would be. Conversely, hares have often been linked to witchcraft and witches in general. In folklore, hares are the familiars of witches. I’m sure this isn’t a coincidence. Pratt has chosen a creature which is wild and free and also tethered to the unknown.

So who could Nan be? I suppose this is left to interpretation. From my reading, Nan seems to stand for the unborn, the mythical, the not-quite-in-existence, but the very much real. Nan can act in ways we mortals can’t, she’s the ethereal, the dark, the deep, the dream. Nan is a free-er version of us. She’s portrayed as very much human and displays great depth of emotion and resilience – but she’s also more than human, and less than human. Throughout the pamphlet we’re never quite able to grab Nan or pin her down; she whips around the pages like a wild being. She’s a wisp, and her existence provides a neat balance for the reality of the narrator’s heavy loss.

This collection is quite an unusual one. The way completely different worlds are combined to explore the theme of loss has been delivered remarkably. Though much of the pamphlet is based in folkloric happenings, it feels believable, organic, and physically very real – a world ‘of gorse and grass’. Pratt’s ‘Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare’ is definitely a pamphlet to be read, read, and read again. And then afterwards, discuss at length.

To buy Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare (published by Prolebooks) please contact the author directly via her Facebook page: Wendy Pratt Writer.

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