The Tilt

by Jean Harrison
ISBN 978-0-9935103-8-0
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These poems, reflecting on a period of time when the author was teaching in the newly independent Ghana, evoke something of the mystery and excitement Africa of that time presented to a European, a tilt from a familiar world view towards a new and very different one. Focusing on personal experience, the contradictions and tensions between a recent colonial history and emerging independence are subtly apparent in Jean Harrison’s clear-eyed writing, which also displays her precise and distinctive powers of description.

“…it is a testament to Jean Harrison’s great skill that she is able to disinter, from personal memory, telling elements of that strange symbiosis of otherwise remote cultures in order to foreground the starker realities of hypocrisy. It has been done before, of course, but rarely with this degree of forensic detachment, or with such subtlety.” Steve Whitaker, Yorkshire Times

“Throughout this collection, Jean Harrison’s pithy, perceptive writing conveys a sharp point of view in precise descriptions and terse lines giving her own personal perspective of Africa.” Carla Scarano D’Antonio, londongrip.

“Probing, politically informed and widely relevant, The Tilt is a perceptive addition to post-colonial narrative.” Julia Deakin, The North


Senegal coucal

If nothing touches the palm leaves they do not rustle

It’s one of the things I came back for,
to hear that glug, glug, glug and know
the bird’s there, somewhere in the hibiscus,
brown, speckled, much the size of a thrush
but even less flamboyant, revealing
its presence by a call ‘like the sound
of water poured out of a bottle’,
bizzare but I love it.

The coucal calls to the sun
that sparkles off the leaves that hide it,
to some invisible rival or partner,
to a tiny scrap of brown feathers
building its nest on a broomhead,
to a watchman puffing a cigarette,
to women apparently haggling, lives
I watch. The call reaches me

where I’m seated, beside a window
whose metal frame and louvres
cut off that life out there from me,
downing the European breakfast
my friend insists I have. She thinks
I’m entranced by archaic spells, wants me
to see her clearly with all her achievements,
her soon-to-be-bestowed doctorate,
to fix my eyes on modern Africa.

And I do, I do, but my ear still leans
towards a sequence of glugs
and conversations not addressed to me.­­

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