7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #601: Featuring Jackie Morris

h1 August 26th, 2018 by jules

“Kingfisher: the colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker, river’s quiver. …”
(Click image to enlarge and read the text in its entirety)


The restoration of the missing words of nature via a spellbook. That’s what I have for you today, dear Imps.

Though Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words, illustrated by Jackie Morris — originally published last year in the UK but coming to American shelves in October from House of Anansi Press — makes no mention of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, it has a lot to do with the book’s very genesis. Here’s how Katharine Norbury explains it in this 2017 article at the Guardian:

In 2007, the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary introduced new words such as “broadband” while others, describing the natural world, disappeared. The dictionary’s guidelines require that it reflect “the current frequency of words in daily language of children”. However, the philosopher AJ Ayer introduced a generation to the notion that unless we have a word for something, we are unable to conceive of it, and that there is a direct relationship between our imagination, our ability to have ideas about things, and our vocabulary. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a groundswell of opposition to the word cull began to grow and, in 2015, the debate reached a tipping point when an open letter to the OJD, coordinated by the naturalist Laurence Rose, was signed by artists and writers including Margaret Atwood, Sara Maitland, Michael Morpurgo and Andrew Motion along with the brilliant illustrator Jackie Morris and the hugely acclaimed wordsmith, word collector, and defender of the natural world, Robert Macfarlane. “There is a shocking, proven connection between the decline in natural play and the decline in children’s wellbeing,” the letter said. A heated debate in the national press ensued, both for and against the lost words, and the collaboration between Morris and Macfarlane was born.



What Macfarlane and Morris have done in what Norbury calls this “sumptuous,” over-sized book (and sumptuous it is) is created what they describe as a spellbook for conjuring these lost words of nature: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker, dandelion, fern, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, magpie, newt, otter, raven, starling, weasel, willow, and wren. In this interview I found online, Morris talks about having “three spreads per word, the first marking a loss, a slipping away, the second being a summoning spell, and the third being the word spelled back into language, hearts, minds and landscape.” Her paintings here are exquisite.


“Dazzle me, little sun-of-the-grass!
And spin me, tiny time-machine!
Tick-tock, sun clock, thistle & dock) …”
(Click image to enlarge and read the text in its entirety)


(Click image to enlarge)


Here is an example of one of the spreads marking a loss (in this case, the kingfisher), as Morris puts it:


(Click image to enlarge)


For each of these lost words, Macfarlane writes an acrostic poem (spell, if you will) to restore the subject matter to the language, to make it come alive in the readers’ minds. The lyrical, evocative spells, which beg to be read aloud, range from direct addresses to the subject matter (“Dazzle me little sun-of-the-grass!” reads the “dandelion” spell); to conversations between the reader and others (in the “conker” spell, the reader addresses a cabinet-maker, king, and engineer about the seed); to conversations between elements of nature and the subject matter (rock, air, vixen, and Earth all ask Raven, “what are you?”); and much more. (The magpie gets her own manifesto.)



(Click image to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


(Click image to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


Utterly enchanting, it’s celebration of nature — but also language itself. If I ran the world, it’d be in every school library and classroom possible.

THE LOST WORDS. Text copyright © 2017 by Robert Macfarlane. Illustration copyright © 2017 by Jackie Morris. First published in the United Kingdom in 2017 by Penguin Books Ltd. First published in Canada and the USA in 2018 by House of Anansi Press Inc. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) Spellbooks!

2) These words.

3) Binge-listening to season one of the podcast In the Dark while driving — and starting season two. (Discouraging subject matter, but great investigative reporting.)

4) As an SNL fan, I enjoyed reading this.

5) A new song from Villagers.

6) This reckoning.

7) Insecure, season two!

What are YOUR kicks this week?

7 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #601: Featuring Jackie Morris”

  1. Gorgeous. I wonder if this book is considered poetry or nonfiction.
    Jules, we need more spellbooks in the world.
    My kicks:
    1. Twenty-four hours at the coast. Was to be longer but complications with necessary Medicare stuff and health insurance stuff and leaving on August 27th caused me to go home earlier.
    2. Walking the beach and the poem that came from it.
    3. Sitting around a fire with writer friends.
    4. Listening to The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
    5. Peace of mind.
    6. Preparing for a road trip to Utah and Arizona.
    7. Watching Anne with an E.
    Have a great week.

  2. Good morning, Imps, words, birds, dandelions, and otters!

    Jules: That’s a good mix of kicks.

    Jone: Have a safe trip!

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Without doubt
    2) Successful
    3) New music
    4) Pacing
    5) Sharing
    6) Chocolate
    7) Time

  3. Jone: Watching that show is still on my to-do list, so thanks for the reminder. More importantly, I’m sorry to hear your trip was cut short. I hope your health is okay.

    Little Willow: Congrats on whatever your success was. And mmm. Chocolate. Did you have cake?

    Have a good week, you two!

  4. Jules: I had chocolate hazelnut spread, and it was tasty.

  5. What a beautiful book! That kingfisher illustration is perfect for a spellbook, that rabbit looks a bit a feral and the swimming otters are gorgeous.

    Jules – Yay for INsecure Season 2 – but tonight’s episode – oh wow. And love Beto’s response and Kelly Tran’s reckoning too.

    Jone – yay for the coast, walks on the beach and sitting around fires with friends.

    LW – love 1,2, 5, 6 & 7 so much. IN my head I transposed 1 & 2 as I see you as successful without a doubt.

    My quick kicks:
    1) Rain, finally.
    2) Another busy week, done.
    3) Bringing homemade blackberry oat muffins to my hair stylist this morning for an early morning appointment.
    4) A Friday night picnic with wine and cheese and friends at Powell Butte to watch the sunset. It did not disappoint.
    5) Plowing through to-do lists.
    6) A Saturday afternoon nap.
    7) Daisy eating strawberries.
    7.5) Making time to enjoy summer winding down.

    Have a wonderful week everyone!

  6. Jules, I’m okay. I was dealing with dumb Medicare/Health insurance forms that had a deadline.
    LW: Love sharing and chocolate
    Rachel: Yes, the rain and naps. And blackberries.

  7. Rachel, haven’t seen the ep yet, but hope to today. … What a rich week you had, filled with all good things.

    Jone: Whew!

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