Monday, June 30, 2014

Edgelands

A year ago when I blogged about Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways I said that it was almost as if the book was designed specifically to please me (in contrast to much of our current culture which seems to be designed specifically to annoy the hell out of me)...In The Old Ways Macfarlane followed some of the ancient walking routes of Europe and conjured up the literary ghosts of previous travellers on those routes, particularly the poet Edward Thomas. The Old Ways became an unlikely international best seller on the strength of its writing and by appealing to the inner yearning of urban based reviewers and readers for the beauty of the great outdoors. Edgelands (Vintage 2012) is a travel book written by two poets, Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley, which is a kind of anti-Robert Macfarlane. Instead of looking for the wilderness at the top of Scotland or in some deep wadi in Palestine Roberts and Farley find the strange, wild and wonderful just down the road from us in that bit of wasteland behind the bus station or in old quarries or junkyards or abandoned factories or canals. In Edgelands the spirit is less Robert Macfarlane and John Muir and more JG Ballard and William Burroughs. The book sets out to be an exploration of "England's True Wilderness" and it reminded me of Ballard's Unlimited Dream Company and Concrete Island and Ian Sinclair's walk around the M25 recorded in London Orbital. Because the authors are poets who love poetry there is a full length poem or a lengthy extract in nearly every chapter from many great contemporary poets. Even more so than Macfarlane the authors realise that it is poets and artists who can see through the mundane to the sublime beyond.
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Roberts and Farley celebrate the weirdness of all night golf driving range, container parks, scrubby woods, motorway service stations, airport car parks and they see loveliness - as, famously, Derek Mahon does - in burned out hotels, old alleys and dereliction. This, as I say, is a kind of anti Robert Macfarlane aesthetic but it's just as good as him (better actually in some ways because the authors have a sense of humour) and it even comes with a generous blurb from Macfarlane on the back cover. I don't know if it's been published in the US or Australia but you can get it on Amazon.co.uk and you can read a bit of it there too. 
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The British documentary maker Jonathan Meades has very similar ideas about beauty on the Isle of Lewis/Harris above/right