Wednesday, 20 April 2011

journeying into the edgelands

I've been enjoying Edgelands, a spider's web collection of essays about the wild hinterlands (mainly in the north and midlands of England) between urban areas and the countryside that uses words, mainly about visuals, both art and what they see, to make noticed what often goes unnoticed. 

The two authors, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts are poets, and capture little worlds of atmosphere in words and phrases (my current favourites: "electric druids" and the furnace of a power station like a volcano). 

Jennifer Jenkins, Iain Sinclair and Roger Deakin are the obvious, if at times, unlikely (particularly Sinclair), touchstones (I haven't finished it yet, so I'm still undecided about where JG Ballard might fit in), with a mix of ghosts past and future, the unexpected interplay of humans and nature and ideas about, the borders of power, society's fringes and who we are. 

Farley and Symmons Roberts' journey is also a personal one into identity and memories (two memories surfaced for me - a vivid summer aged 10 on a wasteland near home where, with friends, we built dens and bike ramps, and the "haunted" abandoned mansion behind the primary school where we explored the overgrown garden while dodging the glue-sniffers). 

There's a couple of related videos that provide much-needed visual accompaniment to the text - The Bright Light On The Edge Of Town five-minute documentary and the authors' tour of Birmingham's "nameless spaces" for The Guardian, and it's well worth going back to Richard Mabey's book from 1973, Unofficial Countryside, to see how far, or not, we've come in this now pretty cluttered books and film territory of geocultural exploration. Meantime, here's a little Edgelands snippet: 
"There are many ghosts in the edgelands’ never-quite-dark. Post-industrial England is haunted by a future that never happened, and the inescapable truth that these are the results of our long reclamation of the night: a blackbird singing at midnight on a floodlit roundabout; the silvery lake surface of a deserted conference centre car park; the steadfast glow of bus-stop advertisements. Ballardian trickledown meant synth pop stars like Gary Numan could posit a future (from a vantage point sometime around 1980) where there would be no street lights, but no dark corners either." (published by Jonathan Cape, £12.99)


  1. You might similarly enjoy the Deep Topography work of Nick Papadimitriou...

  2. Thanks for the tip on this book. Will look out for it.

  3. Wow this looks just my sort of thing, I can also recommend Nick Papadimitriou lots of his videos on youtube.

  4. Two recommendations on Nick Papadimitriou! Thank you, and will definitely look him up.