The Making of Sandsnarl

By Jon Stone, author of Sandsnarl

“Village of dunes. Valley of slumber-dust. Sandsnarl is a settlement steeped in sand …”

I drafted this introductory blurb when I was less than half-way through writing the manuscript for Sandsnarl. I’d already decided that I wanted to declare a shared setting for the poems, and to position the book as a work of fantasy fiction as well as poetry. There were other impulses and inclinations in the mix as well: I wanted to write a kind of micro-musical, where each cast member has their signature song; I wanted to publish a collection with a desert theme; I wanted to make something that fitted neatly into the existing range of Emma Press Picks, with its westerns, witches and movie deaths.

At its heart, though, Sandsnarl is also a personal and serious work. The central conceit – sand as a substance that aggressively defines or intrudes upon the thoughts, actions and identities of a small populace – is one that allowed me to approach the topic of shared cultural obsessions and preoccupations. Chief among these is our collective paralysis in the face of climate change. The sand in Sandsnarl represents, in one sense, a future state of desolation pre-emptively haunting us. Like the antique traveller reading the words on Ozymandias’ plinth, we have simultaneous impressions of the power and reach of our civilisation and of its inability to save itself. “The lone and level sands stretch far away”, whichever direction we look in.

But then, the sand also stands for any idea or concept that gets talked and talked about until has been whipped to near-meaninglessness, having come to signify so many things to so many different people. Any mania or mass conjuration that it seems we cannot escape. Some of the characters in the book are not sand junkies – the sand is an impediment to them. But they too have to face it.

As to the personal dimension, in the year or so leading up to writing Sandsnarl, I had been struggling through a period of poor mental health that normal accounts of depression and anxiety did not adequately describe. I felt smudged and scoured and part-erased. I had lost some things that were important to me, and it seemed as if they were fading from my past as well as missing from my present. This led directly to the lines in the first poem in the pamphlet which imply that the ‘age of sand’ has removed all memory of preceding eras, as well as all objective knowledge.

It might seem strange for me to touch on these weighty issues while proffering a book which is inhabited by a range of comic and fantastical characters – a book full of rhyming structures that are more likely to be associated these days with children’s verse. There is no direct address from me, the author, in Sandsnarl. I do not climb into the pulpit or tell you exactly what happened to me. 

But then again, why should that be strange? The best way I know to get at certain truths and to make them available to others is by describing imaginary scenarios and the figures that would be shaped by them. Fantasy has always been a device for probing at that part of our experience which we cannot easily narrate. And if it isn’t immediately apparent to anyone reading Sandsnarl that it has anything to do with climate change, mass hysteria or trauma, then that’s fine too. There is no pressing need to communicate everything at once, or to everyone. The declarative mode has its natural advocates; I prefer building a sandpit.

Order Sandsnarl here.

Cover image from page 144 of Astronomy for the use of schools and academies (1882) from Internet Archive Book Images on Flickr Commons.

Jon Stone is a Derbyshire-born writer, editor and researcher. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2012 and the Poetry London Prize in 2014 and 2016. School of Forgery (Salt, 2012) was chosen as a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. He designs and edits collaborative mixed media anthologies with Sidekick Books and has a PhD in poem-videogame interplay.
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