Jean Harrison was an accomplished poet and novelist, willing to take risks with her writing and constantly push boundaries. Jean’s poems were rewarded with prizes and commendations and achieved placements on prestigious shortlists as well as publication in very many UK literary magazines. During the last twelve years, Jean’s two poetry collections and two novels were published by Cinnamon Press. She had a background in teaching and had worked in Kent, Warwick, Ghana, Leeds, Birmingham, Watford and Exeter over a long career.
Cinnamon Managing Editor Jan Fortune writes, Jean’s work was a testimony to her intellect and humanity. Her first collection, Junction Road, sold out and her second, Terrain, has very few copies remaining. She came to novel writing late, but did so with imaginative flair. On a Wandering Planet asks huge questions about the folly of the human perspective in an age of environmental degradation, while The Fern Hedge, her last novel, mixes conventional narrative and stream of consciousness to explore how Alzheimer’s impacts across three generations of a family.
Poems in The Tilt, Jean’s last pamphlet (published by Wayleave Press), spanned half a lifetime of teaching in Ghana and are rich in detail and subtle in their critique of colonialism . As Jane Routh, fellow longstanding member of ‘The Poetry Business’ community of poets, writes, Jean was a sharp critic in workshops, and of her own work too. I think of her writing as characterised by an extraordinary inventiveness and intense, detailed observation. They’re there in ‘Woman on the Moon’, a poem first published in The North, which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for the Best Single Poem 2004. They’re there in her two novels – On a Wandering Planet invents a dystopian future in which social dislocation uncannily prefigures much of our present situation.
Jean was a founder (in 2013) of Settle Sessions for local writers in North Yorkshire, intent on bringing good readings to her adopted home town, but ones which also engaged a wider community than her poet friends. Jean also co-founded Cinnamon Friends to ensure the survival of the press in an era of funding cutbacks.
The esteem in which Jean was held by all of us in her writing world and many in other parts of her life is expressed well by Jan Fortune: Jean combined linguistic dexterity and rigorous attention to detail in all her writing. And she cared deeply about education, how we live and how we relate. She was feisty and quick-witted and extraordinarily generous. The world has lost a special person as well as a talented author; it was a privilege to work with her and to know her.
Jean died peacefully at home on 5th April 2020 having all but completed the manuscript of The distance between us. This posthumous collection serves as a memorial to her.
The proceeds from the book will be used to maintain the Contemporary Poetry Library at The Folly, Settle, which was founded by the donation to the Museum of North Craven Life of Jean Harrison’s extensive personal collection.