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Book review: Feather, Leaf, Bark & Stone by Jackie Morris

25 Feb 2024 6 minute read
Feather, Leaf, Bark & Stone by Jackie Morris is published by Unbound

Julie Brominicks

Inside its cardboard packaging the book shines like a silky conker begging to be stroked. Held. The weight of it appreciated. Hardback with a bookmark ribbon. A sumptuous thing.

In a nutshell this book is a collection of nature poems presented as images – but the whole truth is more intricate and complex. Typed words cross the first pages like prints in snow.

After that, each page features a photograph of word art; handwriting or more often typewriter prose on gold leaf or bark or feather, some with a stencil of a labyrinth or bird.

Textured art which photography and the production process has rendered smooth and made one with the paper.

Each image has plenty of space because the back of every page is blank. Turning them makes you feel like you’re loose in a gallery.


Serendipitously, ‘Feather, Leaf, Bark and Stone’ arrived the morning after I’d seen Mike Parker’s exhibition of the photographs he took while writing ‘All The Wide Border.’

I loved seeing Mike’s pictures thoughtfully framed because in the book I’d overlooked them, for his excellent prose.

I’m undecided about photographs illustrating text in books but it turns out lots of people enjoy their very presence, despite greyscale and compromised framing.

Suffice to say I had the interplay of photograph, image, paper and text on my mind.

Page from Feather, Leaf, Bark & Stone by Jackie Morris

And now this book. I turn it over and again. An undeniable yet undefinable treasure. Each page thick, each print lustrous.

They are not bound by any formula but there is continuity between the pages – a loose narrative of poetry, emotion, and nature, connecting words and images.

Wren, hare, hare, wren. Wild, wild. Linked like a scatter of flowers in a meadow. These photographs do not illustrate prose. They are the prose – words and art as one.

My favourite, because it makes me shiver, is this:

‘A wish. Not to share the form of a hare, two hearts beating, one body – but to slip shape, become wild on the earth, Woodcat, pilgrim, stars for a ceiling, moss for a bed.’

I wonder how such a genre-fluid book got commissioned till I see it is an Unbound publication – the crowd-sourcing publishing house that ‘brings together a bold and diverse catalogue of books that other publishers might overlook.’

The people that financed it are listed in the back. The more I find out about Jackie, the more suitable this collaborative arrangement seems.

Ink otters

Like one of her ink otters, Jackie Morris has been swimming around the periphery of my consciousness.

I was at Shrewsbury Folk Festival in 2021 but somehow missed Spell Songs – the performance combining songs by seven musicians with Robert MacFarlane’s words and Jackie’s illustrations (she painted live on stage).

And last year, though I did some events with Tom Bullough whose book ‘Sarn Helen’ Jackie illustrated, my copy was a pre-publication one and didn’t have them in.

The elusiveness seems appropriate. This book is present yet ethereal, like rain scudding over a landscape.

I want to know more, so I sit in the National Library with an original painting (displayed for me on an easel!) and a pile of Jackie’s books. Jackie Morris is prolific.

She has illustrated books written by or in collaboration with other people, or written and illustrated them herself. (‘The Seal Children’ for example is a gorgeous mix of Welsh folklore and history).


Her paintings are otherworldly. Mysterious kingdoms decorate Christmas cards in the scattered style of medieval art. Her story-book paintings are magical and masterful with strong compositions.

Curlews in liquid flight. Enigmatic children. The silent submarine worlds of seals and shining fish. Thorn hedges that dance across snow, ascending birch trees. The muscularity and grace of her snow leopards!

Even the book titles; ‘The Wild Swans’, ‘Something about a Bear’, ‘The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow’ reveal her trademark precise but dreamlike nature observations.

Page from Feather, Leaf, Bark & Stone by Jackie Morris


Of course you don’t have to know Jackie’s repertoire to appreciate ‘Feather, Bark, Leaf and Stone’. But I understand it better having seen just a fraction.

This book springs from what came before but is different – Jackie describes it as being the working out of worries and fears, the pandemic and the loss of her father. It is also the work of an accomplished artist and writer with nothing to prove and a fan base that encourages her to be expressive and experimental.

At first perusal, the imagery spoke to me more than the words. But with Jackie’s collaborations and multi-media work in mind I read the words aloud like spells and they lifted off the page (in the same way Mike’s photographs took on new meaning in the gallery).

Creative people like Jackie (and Mike!) remind us that there are many ways to see, sense, listen. Appreciate.

The title poem appears like a charm then reappears in slightly varied verse forms throughout, rhythmic, like The Song of Hiawatha.

The typewriter text reminds me of a photograph I saw of one of Harry Griffin’s Country Diary entries. The gold leaf stencils bring retro Christmas tablecloths to mind. This is a rich interplay of media and memory and impression.

A celebration of textures; of pebble, leaf and feather, fused into paper by photographic print.

Still I have a yearning to liberate the pages. To cut each one out and set them free. Pin one to a tree. Roll one up to stuff in a crevice like the nest of a leaf-cutter bee. Float a few downriver.

I don’t of course, this book is too special. But when I look at Jackie’s website I see that sometimes she paints a dove or a feather or a labyrinth onto a pebble, to leave in a stream or a hollow. She calls them gifts for the wild.

This book perhaps, is a conversation with the wild.

‘Feather, Leaf, Bark and Stone’ by Jackie Morris, is published by Unbound and is available here.

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