About

Cultural Geographer, University of Sheffield, writing on Place, Nature, Landscape, Literature – current research funded by the Leverhulme Trust: New Regional Geographies (For Sarajevo)

http://newregionalgeographies.wordpress.com/

Follow me on Twitter: @James_F_Riding

Fields were thick with dandelion and a small farmhouse was in view. It stood on the rise of a winding lane, in front of a bare slope, where the memorial stone sat. Juniper bushes, fir trees, and beeches banked a river of grass surrounding it. The yew tree by the gate of the house, where two cocker spaniels yapped at each other, once housed a gold crested wren. Edward Thomas, the poet, and his wife Helen, who became a writer after the death of her husband at war, moved to the house from Elses Farm, Kent, in 1908. It was their first house in Steep, East Hampshire. Wisteria and a thriving clematis, montana rubens, dangled from the house, as it seemed to at every house in the village. While may blossom delightfully sprayed flowers that arched from the trees like sea spume, as we gathered on the quiet road. The pantiles sunk the house, and made it seem as if the house had always been a part of the landscape; or at least a part of the landscape for longer than Edward and his poetry. The house appeared to have been nailed together – the flint let into the pointing looked like nail heads. We pushed on at pace to the final reading point: Two Yew Tree Cottages. The last house Edward, Helen and their children lived in together. This was to be the most creative period of his life. 130 of the 144 poems he wrote were written while he lived in the house – although most were composed in the study atop his hill. Almost all were inspired by the hills we walked. There was a plaque on the house. Poet: being enough to describe Edward nowadays, in spite of the relatively small proportion of his life given over to writing poetry. Another dark yew overhung the garden, along with a hedge of wild damsons, where a nightingale sang once. Rosemary, thyme, lavender, bergamot, and old man, the herbs Edward loved, still grew sporadically in the now overgrown little patch. We read his poem, Old Man, in the place about which it was written, and gave the shrub a little rub, for good measure. Poem and place united, crumpled together, with the idea of manufacturing some sort of sense of belonging whilst wandering the South Downs. A shortcut to feeling present within a landscape: at one with it. The poem we read though had exactly the opposite effect. Old Man dislocated, disrupted place, rendered it elusive; transporting us elsewhere. Poetry read in-place, the place which the poem describes, is poetry out of place – it was never really meant to be read as such. Uniting the poem with the garden and the shrub was oddly disorientating. Poems are unhappy and tend to wriggle about, on their returning home. That is the paradox of a literary walk – and representatlionalist thinking more generally. Yet this chalk seam is festooned with poems, and there are still more to be found.

In Pursuit of Spring

‘The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was already several, there was already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as farthest away. We have assigned clever pseudonyms to prevent recognition. Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think. Also because it’s nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it’s only a manner of speaking. To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied.’

(A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari)

We resolved to set off by bicycle once we had established when spring had begun, or more accurately was about to begin. The plan was to then pursue it and witness the metamorphosis of the landscape and each other; the further we got along the preordained route. It was not until more than a month after a false spring had visited London though that we finally did agree to get going, in the second week of March. The ride was to be our first journey together of this kind. On the road for an extended period: out in the open countryside or weaving through dense traffic. Becoming companions, pen pals, so close it is now difficult to tell us apart. It remains to be seen what remains for a poet, a topographic writer, the subject, I, in this post-human world. Riding to the holiest of holy poetic sites from the capital seemed like a good way to find out what remnants there were. What follows is the record of that journey along roads and lanes to the Quantock Hills – to Nether Stowey and Coleridge Cottage, Kilve, Crowcombe, and West Bagborough, via Guildford, Dunbridge, Salisbury Plain, Bradford-on-Avon, Trowbridge, The Avon, The Biss, The Frome, Shepton Mallet, and Bridgwater – in pursuit of spring. It is necessary to go back prior to the visit of the false spring to begin with though; to the days here and there, when we walked together, to the days spent walking with the Fellowship, and even farther into the past, to the days before our first meeting. To where it all started, with a desire to walk differently, oddly, in a manner which most people are not used to; questioning as we went what is poetic, a poem, representation in general. To the initial discovery of literary societies; the obsessive ones that wander the landscapes their literary hero held dear, incessantly, reinserting poetry and prose as they go. Those odd little literary walking groups that illustrate perfectly the paradox of representationalist thinking – maneuvered back into the foreground during the last quarter century by Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. The paradox that is hidden away, in order to compartmentalize thought and feeling; the paradox that representation could actually be witnessed, felt, seen, heard, bumped into, and could be researched like any other thing. You could meet it on a dark night in London, get a tangible sense of it; a feeling in your bones, and subsequently try to find it again, before it finds you first. The paradox that literature can moor itself, detach itself, interact with, reassemble and transform the multiple places we inhabit; become a part of the vitality of those places, and affect how we move through them. Manifest itself as material compositions, as presentations in and of the world; not as representational imaginary, pattern, gaze, or construction overarching landscape (see Dewsbury et al, 2002: 437). In the mêlée, place and literature mutually perform each other adding, dissolving, maintaining, circulating and deconstructing meaning, symbolism, identity; with the two being held in a porous process of intertwining, becoming, and disentangling (see Nancy, 2000, for an outline of his philosophy of the mêlée rather than the mélange of place). The mêlée of things – representation included – going on, and moving about in the places we inhabit can be thought of as poetics.

 *

‘With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I’d always dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off. Dean is the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road, when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926, in a jalopy, on their way to Los Angeles.’

(On the Road, Jack Kerouac)

‘In using the term [The South Country] I am thinking of all that country which is dominated by the Downs or by the English Channel, or by both… Roughly speaking it is the country south of the Thames and Severn and east of Exmoor, and it includes therefore, the counties of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, and part of Somerset’

(The South Country, Edward Thomas)

Hitchhiking is a subversive act and always has been. Whether thumbing a lift off a trucker or hitching a ride with a rich kid. Wearing ripped jeans, a dirty t-shirt, and a pair of converse, stood waiting at the roadside with no money and no worries. A small bag of possessions over a shoulder, or a beat up case in hand, some smokes in a pocket. Drink, drugs, and music awaiting the hitcher at their eventual destination. There is some of that original beat spirit at play here, in these trips back and forth. Together they do not provide a comprehensive topographical account of a region, or even individual landforms. And the chance of following the routes taken is slim. It is not, as a result, a guide book. If anything it is the complete opposite. It just so happens that the area walked, biked, and driven; sat, stood, laid, and ate in, is what it is. I could have ended up anywhere and begun somewhere else. There were many other directions to travel in and places from. Indeed there are many other places to which I have travelled that are described. The semi-mythical, South Country is as such, a misnomer really. It was used purely out of habit to begin with. The habit of bounding things up and naming them something else, creating some sort of geographic region – despite the region containing many diverse sites within it and being inseparable from what is outside it. It was presumably useful to have some idea of the region in which these walks and rides in the main took place early on. There is though a reason why it has been retained until now, and that is as a term to play off and against. To make the book appear like what it is not – a guide book, a topographical tour, a factual travelogue. For that reason alone it was kept as part of the title. It was not kept; in order to map the literature associated with the region neatly, or for any sort of crude poetic comparison with other regions. Hitchhiking is there to remind. Remind the reader of the subversive intentions of this work. The South Country keeps in mind traditional topographic books.

*

‘In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of their own life.’

(Walden, Henry David Thoreau)

‘When Edward Thomas was killed in Flanders, a mirror of England was shattered of so pure and true a crystal that a clearer and tenderer reflection of it can be found no other where than in these poems’

(Edward Thomas Collected Poems, Walter de la Mere)

‘He [Hilaire Belloc] is such a geographer as I wish many historians were, such a poet as all geographers ought to be, and hardly any other has been’

(A Literary Pilgrim in England, Edward Thomas)

I hit upon the idea of writing something about poetry and geography a few years ago now, whilst reading up on the human geography version of a post-structuralist theory: Non-Representational Theory. The initial drift I had has not changed a great deal. It was, more or less; if Deleuze is writing about literature, films, and fine art as ontological practices, part of the sense and nonsense of everyday life, then why aren’t human geographers? With that in mind I set about finding a poet to help me tease apart the intricacies of a greatly influential, much maligned, yet I felt, often misunderstood theory (see Lorimer, 2005, 2007, and 2008 for a discussion of exactly this). Once a poet was found, the crux of this work would be creating a methodology to access notions of affect, practice, and process through literature and vice-versa using a non-representational vitalism – nothing else. I was (and still am) of the mindset that literature can moor itself, detach itself, interact with, reassemble and transform the multiple places we inhabit; become a part of the vitality of those places, and affect how we move through them. In this non-representational understanding of the representational, literature manifests itself as material compositions, as presentations in and of the world, not as a representational imaginary, pattern, gaze, or construction overarching landscape (see Dewsbury et al, 2002: 437). And in the mêlée of place outlined, place and literature mutually perform each other adding, dissolving, maintaining, circulating and deconstructing meaning and symbolism; with the two being held in a porous process of intertwining, becoming, and disentangling (see Nancy, 2000, for an outline of his philosophy of the mêlée rather than the mélange of place). The processes or mêlée of things (representation included) going on, and moving about in the places we inhabit can be thought of as poetics. Despite the liveliness of poetics being attuned to new theories of place, there was a definite lack of work being done about poetry, or indeed any form of literature, when I began down this road a few years ago. Instead, most work concentrated on practice/performance/motion, and emotion/embodiment/feeling, in themselves, sometimes feeling strangely static, disembodied and unemotional. So it seemed back then – less so now with an increasing interest from human geographers in the creative arts once more – as if there was a disciplinary gap for poetry to fill.

Literary Hitchhiking – a post-structuralist topology interested presently in performance-poetry and the poetic-event, accessing affect by means of practice, obliquely through literature – was the result. It came about initially because I wanted to rid human geography of the opinion that representation was old, dead, and boring. I was also curious to visit the intimate places and vast landscapes, which inspired the great poets of England – and to look through a little window into their minds. I hoped optimistically that their landscapes would inspire me if I took a journey with them, even if I did happen to be devoid of any poetic talent. At that time though I had little knowledge of poetry and poets, so simply walking within and beyond the city with a book of poems and being poetic was not doable. I needed an in, a vehicle to hitchhike with. Literary societies provided for me that mode of transport. Thus for the past few years now, I have been walking down in The South Country with a number of them. In the beginning there was only one society, who I repeatedly walked loops of the same landscape with. This soon became two. I now walk regularly with three allied societies: The Richard Jefferies Society (Jefferies was a journalist, naturalist, and novelist walking and writing in The South Country from 1848-1887, in the process popularising natural history, a form of psychogeography, and the ecology movement), The Friends of the Dymock Poets (The Dymock Poets were a literary group that regularly walked The South Country in the early 20th Century – they were Robert Frost, Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, and John Drinkwater), and The Edward Thomas Fellowship (Thomas was a member of The Dymock Poets and was greatly influenced by Jefferies. He walked The South Country incessantly, writing poetry and prose as he went, until his death in the First World War). I also walk occasionally with The Thomas Hardy Society, The Ivor Gurney Society, The William Cobbett Society, and The Friends of Coleridge whom also wander The South Country frequently. The Jane Austen Society puts on a lovely guided tour of Chawton House and its grounds every few months, and there is a W.H Hudson walk that I have completed, but no society: The Hazlitt Society do not walk as a group, preferring an annual lecture, which I am yet to attend. What happens on a hitchhike, is a sort of tagging along. I basically follow the society around a place, which their literary hero held dear until they have had enough or seen all there is to see. When we reach a spot where an event occurred, maybe a poem was written, we stop to undertake a ritual reading before moving on. This is then repeated until the loop is complete, or a pub is reached. A walk practicing poetry usually happens two or three times a year. The three societies whom I regularly walk with, and the others, were set up in order to foster interest in certain literature and to preserve particular ‘picturesque’ landscapes. The regular meets when they actively travel to and within a literary landscape are a vital part of this voluntary memorialising and the mutual enactment of literature and place – with the literature mediating, altering, and enhancing their experience of place and the place doing the same to the literature. Hitching a ride with such literary societies whom memorialise, preserve, and claim landscape in this way, through a form of ‘right’ or ‘correct’ walking – reasserting poetry as they go – turned out to be the perfect solution to my lack of poetic nous. I could witness their movements, garner their knowledge of poetry, monitor at poetic sites their detective-work, borrow their representational findings from their regular reenactions, speak of memories from previous loops, and – legitimized by the undertaking of an outdoor leisure pursuit – mimic their art of being moral, occasionally mobile, historically and environmentally sensitive healthy citizens (see Ingold, 2004). Interestingly though, in the process of being curious and documenting my experiences Literary Hitchhiking, I was thrust into a life of things, not really considered real or relevant things for a while (in human geography especially) and not since Bachelard writing The Poetics of Space (1958), to anywhere near as great an extent. Surreally a phenomenology of the imagination and memory began to be tentatively sketched out via a poet, whilst hitchhiking, as if I was some sort of medium. It is exactly this type of work, which uses creative writing as a form of analysis that has only recently become possible within human geography – due to the space opened up by those softly humming non-representational theory over the past decade, writing up research on landscape, perception, embodiment (Dewsbury, 2003; Edensor, 2000; Spinney, 2006; Tolia-Kelly, 2007, Wylie, 2002, 2005), memory (Lorimer, 2003, 2006; Lorimer and McDonald, 2002; Pearson, 2007; Pile, 2002), and material culture and the spectral (DeSilvey, 2007; Dubow, 2011; Edensor, 2005; Till, 2005; Tilley, 2004). This research follows the path forged, adding witnessing representation to witnessing space, poetics to relationality, and Bachelard to a cultural geography which has in the main overlooked him in favour of Merlau-Ponty and Heidegger. In the process the paper skews the line which separates the post-structuralist Deleuze writing The Logic of Sense (1969) (a book of paradoxes from wonderland, of sense and nonsense, meaning and unmeaning) and the phenomenological Bachelard writing The Poetics of Space (1958) (a book of the dreams of childhood houses, the architecture of the imagination, in a state of impermanence rather than finality). Both books are considered to be advocates of poetics when it comes to understanding the places we inhabit and beyond. It was the redemptive qualities of poetics, in getting at the incomprehensible enchantment of everyday life and writing it, even if it made no sense, especially if it made no sense, which Bachelard and Deleuze found so appealing for society, from Lewis Carroll to Charles Baudelaire. It is this spirit of speculative endeavour – deconstructing the abstract rationales of the geographer – which I would like to tap into and continue. The paper therefore uses poetic techniques and considers them to be potent geographical research tools, learnt through doing, attempted most of the time by writing prose and cutting away at it – geography can learn something from poetry, from the intimate sensuous immersion of poets, to the subsequent, not always fully comprehensible, fractured narrative they produce, to the different dissemination channels used engaging the wider public, while poetry can learn something from the spatial, philosophical, social, and cultural awareness of geographers doing research. The Literary Hitchhiking thus far undertaken with poets and their societies are here displayed, as part poetry, part topological survey; a topoanalysis, a co-production of theory and practice, with a seam of encounters, or bookmarks, scribed into the land, along the way. Giving, as a result, thought to the politics of performativity in the processual identity formation of a landscape and its people. The research is a nod to the work of Michael Taussig; in particular his piece of muted defective storytelling, Walter Benjamin’s Grave (2006). Literary Hitchhiking pushes at the borders of the geographical imagination raising the spectre of Bachelard and (to a lesser extent) Deleuze, following the path foot beaten by Taussig an anthropologist, psychogeographers, W.G Sebald, and the other afore mentioned geographers softly humming non-representational theory, using creative writing and poetry as a form of analysis to do so.

What of these great poets then – Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Clare, Tennyson, Swinburne, Wordsworth, Milton, Byron, Blake, Yeats, Hardy, etc? How did I come to choose one solitary, relatively obscure poet to initially hitch a ride with? I do not know exactly. There was no real logic involved in making the decision, I just waited for a poet to come by and held out a thumb. Edward Thomas therefore became the focal poet that I did some hitching with for no particular reason. The further I traveled with him though the more the random choice that I made one day a few years ago, seemed inspired. For the poetry Thomas wrote during a very short period was quietly revolutionary, concentrating on the loss of landscape, ‘rather than continuing the kind of relaxed celebration typified by Isaak Wilson and Gilbert White’ (Motion, 1980: 40). Not avant-garde, fashionable, or trendy, in any way. His poetry is simple, honest, and understated, in a ‘disarmingly low-keyed tone of voice’ (Motion, 1980: 169): The sound of sense (Motion, 1980). Moments of thought and memory perforate, and expound all that is ‘ungraspable in the very nature of words, and memory, and consciousness’ (Danby, 1959: 313). Leaving, therefore, only disconnected impressions of landscape, providing merely a series of fragments for the reader. Lanes, trees, woods, brooks, pits, roads, hills, farms, pubs, paths, houses, chapels, and signposts, are interwoven with places, weather, people, animals and countryside practices. He does not sit very easily with the present, preferring the past, but is in many ways a covert modernist in his style. His verse subtly upsets. Rhyme schemes are rarely used; a rhyming couplet is particularly rare. In short, his poetry resists categorisation. He is on the cusp of old and new, ‘between antiquated traditionalism and elitist modernism,’ an isolated figure, not included in Michael Robert’s epoch-defining Faber Book of Modern Verse (1936) (Wisniewski, 2009:1). Despite this, Ted Hughes once said: “Edward Thomas is the father of all of us”. Edna Longley reiterated this statement, arguing Thomas began the modern poetry movement with Robert Frost and W.B Yeats, due to their rejection of a constricted verse, and imagism led poetry, allowing some freedom (Longley, 2008: 20). Furthermore, his version of Romantic Ecology, eco-criticism, or eco-historical writing, naturalistic but very much committed to the people who cultivate the landscape, shares many similarities with current ecological thought and should be read as a form of imaginative ecology (see Bate, 1991; and Morton, 2007, for a discussion of Thomas and ecology): Edward Thomas, a pastoral melancholic, ‘longing to make the glimpsed good place permanent’ (Thomas, 1964: 11). Of the one hundred and forty four poems written in the final two years of his life, ‘sometimes at the rate of one a day’, The Manor Farm (1914), The Combe (1914), November Sky (1914), Old Man (1914), Adlestrop (1915), A Tale (1915), The Path (1915), The Mountain Chapel (1915), Aspens (1915), The Mill Water (1915), Wind and Mist (1915), Rain (1916), Roads (1916), No One So Much as You (1916), and many others still resonate, despite their speedy execution (Sacks, 2004: xxiv). And as he would have wished defined him as a person, after years spent doing hack work. The fleeting, fractured moments he captured, of intimate disintegrating places, in the wider context of a disappearing, encroached upon, English countryside and its traditional practices, are often praised for their “Englishness”; in spite of his Welsh heritage arguably affecting his attitude towards the countryside, and his imagination (see Wisnieski, 2009). And the landscape represented is in many ways the archetypal “rural idyll”, but preserved for eternity in eerie, haunted, uncanny verse, due to his ‘residual mystical inclinations’ (Longley, 2008: 14) – although sadly, somewhere beyond the borders of Thomas’ mind, there was a world he could never quite come at (Thomas, 1964:11). It is for these reasons that I resolved to continue to hitchhike with the Fellowship, more than any other society over the years, as I viewed Thomas as something of an oddity, belonging nowhere in life and in death, born to be a ghost, a random one off refusing to bob along in the coming tide of new wave elitist modernism, writing poetry that is in a traditional antiquated sense not poetry. Following initially, is a selection collated of that Literary Hitchhiking, done with Thomas and his disciples, sutured together with the proviso of presenting many of my own novice disconnected impressions of a landscape. While the prose and poems may be in certain eyes inept at points, or lacking beauty in others, or flowery self-indulgence throughout for some harsh critics, it does not affect the methodological argument being made; poetics is analysed herewith through exploring the process of becoming a poet or writing poetically in the form of prose or poems, for making poetics could open up a potentially fruitful avenue for future geographic research using a myriad of different trope – in the process building bridges between geography, cultural history, and literary and cultural studies. It is suggested throughout that in order to gain an understanding of poetics and place initially and to subsequently attempt to represent this understanding, there is something to be gained from creating poetics of your own in some form or another – here it is seen as vital; without poetics we are lost.

Edward Thomas was recently resurrected by David Matless (2008) – in spite of poetry’s decline in favour, since the heady days of it being used to reflect on class, travel or geology, through ‘reading’ or deconstructing vast textually reshaped landscapes (see e.g. Coe, 1979; Cosgrove, 1979; Squire, 1988; Wyatt, 1995) – when he called for us to consider a book from 1913, written by Thomas, entitled The Icknield Way (an account of a walk along a dismembered ancient trackway from Thetford in Norfolk to Wanborough in Wiltshire) floating him against the tide of geographical research regarding landscape-mobility-practice. Hinting at how Thomas and other topographers, or poets, could be used by geographers, Matless notes, how ‘books move in and out of Thomas’ book in surprising ways’ (2008:199). Aspects of landscape ignored by others, such as diverting the text indoors and looking at paintings of landscape on his hotel wall, are perhaps a ‘deliberate indoor extension of landscape mobility’, and an interesting allusion to encountering representation (in and of the world) in landscape (Matless, 2008:199). A year later, in 1914, when Thomas published In Pursuit of Spring war had broken out. And his soon to be good friend, the poet Robert Frost, concluded that the book was poetic and that ‘Thomas was a poet behind the disguise of his prose’, encouraging him on their first meeting to begin writing poetry (Thomas, 1985: 223). This is a lovely tale, though unclearly discussed in a number of biographies, where Thomas appears Frost’s ‘debtor, in verse and in inspiration’ (Sergeant, 1961: 209). Eleanor Farjeon, another writer and close friend, could have encouraged him to begin writing poetry. The war was also a factor. He could have merely decided himself; the outpouring of eighty-five poems in seven months from November 1914 to the day he enlisted, is astonishing, and would indicate that this may be the case. As, R.G Thomas (1985: 223) writes, ‘we can see Thomas clearing the ground [in his prose] in preparation for a thorough understanding of the self that, he feared had gone astray’. It is now widely understood, rightly so, that Thomas had been a poet all his life, and that Frost produced the enharmonic change, which made him not a different man, but the same man in another key (Farjeon, 1958: 56). Put simply, Robert Frost kick-started Thomas’s poetry (Longley, 2008: 15).  It is this story that I am interested in throughout the research. How do you suddenly start writing poetry if you have never written a poem before? Or how do you suddenly start writing poetically if it is not natural to you? What sort of poetic apprenticeship do you have to undertake? Is it possible – as Thomas himself argues – for geographers to be poets too, even if the geographer in question has no poetic talent? These are not such ridiculous questions. Arts practice has become increasingly fashionable within social science over the past few years, with collaborative research being the done-thing. This must mean we attach some importance to poetry, literature, painting and such like. There still remains though a lack of acceptance of art when done by a geographer. This research attempts to change this by undertaking pilgrimages to holy poetic sites (and supposedly non-poetic sites) – following in the footsteps of Edward Thomas on the trail of his walk-poems – with Thomas and a number of his disciples for company initially, as a guide to poetics; writing poetically as I go. How to be for the world? Deleuze asked. Attempt to bring something incomprehensible in to it if possible? Jump in the back seat. Mind the poet.

The first section of this work, describes a number of excursions undertaken with The Edward Thomas Fellowship. It is arranged into six chapters, and could be called memory work, prose-poetry, performance poetry, life-writing, storytelling, or literary hitchhiking really. I begin with a brief history of events leading up to the first hitchhike I did back in the summer of 2008, with Colin and Larry, before describing the loop itself. The subsequent three chapters describe time spent in the South Country with non-existent writers, Doug, comrades, my ex-girlfriend, and eventually, the whole literary society. All of my Literary Hitchhiking has built on the poetic associations I learnt of on my first hitch. Driving on further and walking through the life of Edward and beyond. And experiencing over the past few years what compelled him eventually to write poetry and the affect his poetry has had on the people it has touched. His influences, his friends, his previous books, his torchbearers, his Fellowship, myth and legend, were all mapped out. Poetic fault lines running across the country in all directions. London to Devon, Dymock to The Lakes, Adlestrop to Arras. Jefferies to Coleridge, Frost to Ransome, Gurney to Brooke. Interweaving streams of rurality and urbanity. The result is a sort of story of writing the landscape. Following the first section is an intermission, stating my aims after the initial foray. The second section takes a slightly different route through the literary landscape, as I suture together a number of hitchhikes, looped with different literary societies – recycling a poetic pilgrimage to boot. I do this by following the way cycled by Edward Thomas when In Pursuit of Spring from 21th March to 28th March 1913. The section opens in the London suburb of Clapham, where Edward lived as a child, and closes in a holy poetic site near my new home – the Quantocks, which Coleridge held so dear. Passing through the landscapes of writers and poets Edward greatly admired, from Richard Jefferies to Thomas Hardy, from Gilbert White to William Hazlitt – becoming a bard in the process, on that bike. It would be my poetic apprenticeship too, I hoped. The section although passing through poetic sites, does question the ‘siting’ of poetry in this way, arguing for a more wide ranging poetics, as a redemptive force; a form of societal catharsis. Following it is a transition into my poetry; all of the poetry written from my time spent hitchhiking, and time spent supposedly not hitchhiking – where memory comes into play – with photos and notes as to why I wrote them, and details of where and who they were written about. The poems attempt to weave together all aspects of my life, not just what I witness on a hitchhike. The third and final section of this work is a retracing of the final journey Edward made to Arras in 1917. The journey begins at Adlestrop Station, the site of his most famous poem and ends at his grave. It is a symbolic walk to end on, as I visit the site of the trenches where he and millions of others died. A handful of the chalky soil that Edward was fighting for was scattered on his grave. The trenches changed poetry, made it translucent; and mimic the staccato rhythms of war and peace. Something changed about poetry from then on – the dovetailing of place and identity, which Romanticism had encouraged, had to change – a new poetics was created but was never used to its full possibility.

 

*

Landscapes, poetics, traces.

The flash, the riff, the loop, the twist. FRACTURE. Memory recedes. We become lost.

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