I am writing this at work so apologise if it is a little garbled due to interruptions!
Last week, I went to an interesting talk and reading on the subject of 'Edgelands' led by the poets Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley, two poets whose work is striking and often wonderful, poets who describe themselves as writing in the "English lyric tradition".
These guys, who (amusingly to me and apropros of nothing) looked almost cartoonishly donnish in desert boots and sports jackets and slipped specs, have observed and poked around Britain's 'overlooked' spaces and places, their notebooks and poetic sensibilities exposed to "the interfacial interzone between urban and rural". This is right up my street. I love wandering about where I shouldn't, picking things and looking closely, and these poets have written their wanderings into a whole book, a paean to the edgelands, the brownfield spaces..
Farley and Symmonds-Roberts have divided their book of poetic prose into essays given deliberately unromantic titles - Cars", "Canals", "Ruins", "Mines", "Hotels", "Sewage Farms" etc. and they have visited wilfully 'not-pretty' cities such as Wolverhampton and Swindon.
There is something wonderful, of course, in casting the beam of poetic attention into raggedy, lost, foetid places, into spaces deemed worthless or void, the ponds and canals cluttered with shopping trolleys, the carparks where ragwort pushes through concrete, the pallet depots and condom strewn Little Chef carparks. And here I confess to making that little list up, for I have not yet read the book, yet these are archetypal places we all know and possibly explored as children building dens and generally doing what we shouldn't..
The danger lies, it seems, in romanticising these places, especially if they hold childhood resonance for us, and of recreating the Grand Tour ideas of the picturesque. It is, surely, particularly easy to romanticise, if one is writing from a position of padded comfort, from a heated metropolitan office rather than an actual sewage farm or dead-end scrap yard. The act of looking casts the viewer into a state once removed from the place they are in - and I found myself wondering if by calling the Edgelands into attention, by naming and placing them into a frame of reference so they become 'culture' actually destroys their very essence.
If something is observed, and in this case, eulogized, it is irrevocably altered, even by just the tiniest shifts. Does the observer impose on the reality observed - are PF and MSR jeopardizing the very places they celebrate?
When a body/quango/group puts a sign up by a pond with pictures of pondskaters and diving beetles, are they are doing more than simply educating..
S-R and Farley's answer to all this is elusive but interesting - the Edgelands are shifting states and places and will forever be. Of course this book should have been written and I'm looking forward to reading it very much. It just makes me feel a bit ...uneasy...that's all, and I still can't exactly work out why...but let's celebrate the Edgelands, the extravagant Buddleia and the celandine of high summer, the tomato plants growing in between railway sleepers, the efflorescence of algae in standing water!


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