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Loop of Jade: Sarah Howe visits Manchester Literature Festival

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By Leigh Jones


2015 T.S. Eliot prize winner and author of A Certain Chinese Encyclopaedia, Sarah Howe made an appearance at the Manchester Literature Festival recently to discuss her novel Loop of Jade. Within her work, Howe takes her audience on a personal journey through her English-Chinese background, exploring, as the book’s blurb describes, both ‘migration and inheritance’. The novel contains many forms of writing, including poetry, narrative, free verse and short prose, all providing an insight into cultural upbringing and the journey to discover one’s place within society.

At the event, Howe read from her work. Opening with ‘Sirens’, inspired by Theodore Roethke’s ‘Elegy for Jane’, Howe showed how she became fascinated with the key word ‘pickerel’ from which she created a poem illustrating the true meaning of literature and how the perceptions of words continuously develop overtime. Howe emphasised the differences human beings share through literature and how it has encouraged us to think. She described her piece as, “very real and determinative”, as it does not seek to provide an answer but, more so, to enhance ideas.

Not only was Howe able to prove her creative ability, she also demonstrated her academic research through Alice Oswald’s ‘Falling Awake’, a poem Howe took an interest in. In the poem, Oswald tells the story of Orpheus, a victim of human violence who is torn limb from limb due to his sexuality, resulting in his head floating downstream. Howe produced her very own poem from the perspective of the forest, which appears in Oswald’s work, naming it ‘Death of Orpheus’. Howe’s poem forms a recognisable comparison between the roles of women and the roles of men, that they are under a society with heterosexual demands. Men were never seen with other men. Howe’s insightfulness and steady rhythm create a beautiful piece of literature.

A fundamental section of Howe’s reading were the snippets she performed for the audience from her poem ‘Loop of Jade’, the overall title of her novel. The theme in her work is symbolised by this leading title, of family relationships between Howe and her mother when she was a child and Howe’s mother with her own. This particular poem was undeniably the most poignant and intimate, telling the story of a cherished object Howe has had in her possession since she was a child – a bracelet made from emerald-green Jadeite. The purpose of the bracelet is, as she explained, that, “You put it on a toddler’s wrist when they are taking their first steps, so that if the baby falls down, the stone shatters rather than the child being hurt.”

She also stated that the object was a perfect symbol to pinpoint her mother’s early childhood and her upbringing in China, where she was abandoned for an unknown reason. This was a genuinely gripping moment for the audience.

Sarah Howe’s writing is stimulating, revitalising, articulate and appealing, the poet succeeding in changing melancholic circumstances into beautiful forms of literature.

Loop of Jade is available now. For more information, visit Sarah’s website.

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Jacqueline Grima

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