#Language:Place:Belonging

May 12, 2020

 

 

One of the results of my involvement with Mapping Manchester's Quiet Spaces and Breathing

Spaces has been that it sowed the seed for a creative project of my own, a series of interlinked

poems exploring the relationship between person and place, entitled Urban Eclogues. An eclogue is

a poem about the experience of country dwellers and the life they lead on the land among its flora

and fauna and the patterns of its seasons and changing weather. My use of the term for poems about

life in contemporary Manchester is not so much ironic as exploratory, as I investigate what kind of

relationship(s) we have with the world – both natural and constructed – around us, and think about

what meaning, if any, traditional relationships with the natural world and its cycles can have for us

as urban dwellers of the 21st century

.

I'd been interested in the relationship between the spaces around us and our sense of who we are for

some time but being part of these projects helped bring things into focus for me, both in terms of the

different elements I might include and how I might actually go about writing it – for example,

taking my own advice and getting outside with a notebook and a pen, observing and making notes

around the city rather than just writing while sitting at my laptop.

 

The poems I'm working on give me a space and focus to look at the relations between place and

individual identity through a series of explorations of a single place, Manchester – though their

focus is on the experience of the individual in a post-industrial urban environment in the aftermath

of the British Empire rather than on the city of Manchester itself, so could be set in any large British

city.

 

Manchester was my choice because:

• my personal history with the city (it's where I was born and grew up) gives me a repository

of local knowledge to draw upon;

• my project includes explorations of particular sites in the city, so focusing on the place

where I am living makes it easy to visit multiple locations at different times (of day and of

the year) to gather material and observations and compare and contrast my experiences;

• because much of the city's shape and character were determined by its growth during the

Industrial Revolution, situating it within narratives of imperial expansion, scientific and

commercial progress, and cultural and social inequality, it seems to offer itself as a paradigm

of the contemporary British urban environment, giving it applicability beyond the local.

 

I don't want the project to be too rigidly structured in advance, preferring to leave myself open to

the possibilities of accident and chance and to be free to be able to wander and drift both physically

and intellectually, but I've been developing a loose framework to work within, as a way of helping

me think about what I want to include and how to go about gathering material and shaping it into a

large-scale work –

 

Drift works

• poems documenting the experience of moving through the city, recording the sights, sounds,

and physical sensations (the smells, the feel of the feel of the concrete beneath my feet, the

wind against my skin etc.) grounding the work in the physical reality of a particular place at

a particular time.

 

Site works

• poems created based on planned visits to specific sites around the city (these may be one-

time visits or could involve multiple visits to the same site – e.g. in different seasons, at

different times of day etc.), which will be complemented by research into the history,

geography, geology, natural history etc., blending my individual response with material

gathered from these disciplines.

 

Text works

• poems based on writings relating to Manchester – found poems and poems created by

manipulating, subverting and partially erasing texts by other writers, for example.

 

Ether talk

• recognising the fact that we live much of our lives in a variety of virtual places as well as the

physical one (the internet, social media, texting, radio, television etc), this thread will make

use of materials from these media

 

Reflections

• a series of meditations on what I am doing in creating this work, and on the ways we use

language to make meaning from the world in which we find ourselves – the narratives and

stories and patterns and rhythms we create – and the ways in which we are shaped by the

narratives in which we find ourselves

 

The sections above are guidelines for me to use while creating the work rather than specific sections

of the planned book; individual poems may fit into one of the above categories or several of these

categories may intersect in a single poem. At the moment I've got about 50 pages of poems written,

plus various notes and fragments, that I'm weaving together into a larger tapestry, the overall shape

of which has yet to reveal itself to me. But that's a large part of the pleasure of writing poetry for me

– using words to explore territories within and without, letting them take me where they will so I

can find out where I am.

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