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

21 comments:

Brendan O'Leary said...

The scattered buildings and rusting contraptions of the West Highlands and Hebrides (and remote West of Ireland too) come as a bit of a shock to the traveller from Australia or America who thought that kind of beauty/ugliness was our own original sin. We expect rural Europe to be picturesque and historical but not in that way.

Meades was great on Aberdeen in that series. I don't know anyone here who was offended by it although those kind of comments could have caused outrage elsewhere.

Alan said...

Adrian,The "Edgelands" that struck me as most uiquely American is found in an area called "Tuba City." It lies in Hopi Indian country adjacent to the vast Navajo Reservation bordering 4 western states.It is bleak,arid area filled with litter blowing everywhere due the vast dust storms which seem to rival the Sahara.We were walking through this area when with blowing dust and tumbleweed we saw a sign above a wooden structure that said "Home Of The world Famous Velveeta Burger." Not to be outdone on the route home we saw a large sign advertising "porn sales and peepshow" and right next to it an equally large sign "Jesus Is Watching ."Best Alan

Brendan O'Leary said...

Alan, I've been to Tuba City, during my youthful wanderings in the 70s. It's in the Navajo area as I recall but the Hopi area is indeed nearby and contained within the Navajo. I went to a Hopi village consisting of portacabins atop a mesa and bought some turquoise jewellery for my ex-girlfriend. I don't know why, it was over. I suppose the desolation matched my mood.

seana graham said...

I just saw Edgelands on my shelf here today or yesterday, which I picked up on your rec awhile ago, though still unread. It has now mysteriously disappeared when I want to look at it.I don't think Amazon has it, but you can get it pretty easily through a third party source there, or wherever you go to find secondhand books.

It's funny that in the U.S. a lot of countryside looks more beautiful because of old ruined barns and farmhouses. But I'm sure people didn't look at them that way when they were freshly abandoned. So maybe an eye for this stuff comes with distance.

adrian mckinty said...

Brendan

He was pretty funny about Braveheart, although not as funny as Stewart Lee:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHA1ufmLZQY

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

I used to go down to the Taos reservation quite a lot when I lived in Denver. I loved that part of New Mexico because of the sky. Thats when I knew that Breaking Bad was filmed on location not Hollywood because the sky looks different out there.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Or you just change how you look?

seana graham said...

Yes, but I think it's also a kind of collective shift, and the passage of time is part of it. I bet for instance that people will finally realize the beauty of telephone wires when everything finally goes wireless. Birds will be bummed too.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Its funny you mention telephone wires. In the documentary Crumb, Art Crumb talks about the hideousness of telephone wires and "all that junk", but I've always found them beautiful. Especially when I lived in Denver and they'd get covered with snow, snowy telephone wires against a deep blue sky - lovely.

seana graham said...

I think it was my teacher Mary Holmes who clued me in about telephone wires, and I have a friend now who does some really nice photo and print stuff with birds on wires. I don't really have any original thoughts, but I'm a good listener. Sometimes.

trevor said...

Is 'fence music' a bit too far?
http://www.jonroseweb.com/f_projects_great_fences.html

adrian mckinty said...

Trev

No it isnt. Thats brilliant. And they did it with the Kronos quartet?

I happen to know that thats how they did the lazer effect in Star Wars. They have a wire fence with a bit of wood and recorded it.

Brendan O'Leary said...

I spent a few months fencing in between jobs. You did actually twang the plain wire at the strainer post to check the tension by the note. Never thought of using a bow though!

For me, Wichita Lineman says it all about working in desolate open areas - beyond the Edgelands I guess. That song conveys so much without actually saying it.

Anne Horton-Smith said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you, Brendan, about Wichita Lineman - one of the best songs ever written with THE most romantic line ever written in it: 'And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time'. Sends shivers up my spine, even now!

Anne Horton-Smith said...

P.S. Brendan, re. fencing work: Did you ever read The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills? Brilliant black comedy from a master.

adrian mckinty said...

Brendan

I know that song but not being a big Glen Campbell never really got into it. There's a Johnny Cash version I heard once that I like better...

adrian mckinty said...

Anne

Never got to that one but I did read his All Quiet On The Orient Express which I really enjoyed. I shld read more of him...

I'm pretty sure he's a Brummie too which is always a good thing.

adrian mckinty said...

Anne

Just ordered the Restraint of Beasts. Sounds good.

Brendan O'Leary said...

Another sale for Restraint of Beasts. Thanks Anne. I had no idea.

Alan said...

Brendan, You are indeed a well travelled man with a bit of the "Romantic."I just listened to Wichita Lineman and it sent chills down my spine with it's perceptiveness.How true Anne about "need and want".Well done.I am going to order "Restraint of Beasts."Thanks for the heads up.Best Alan

Anne Horton-Smith said...

Good to share the company of you crime novel aficionados with poetry and romance in your soul - like our host, Adrian. I hope you will enjoy The Restraint of Beasts (I should be getting commission!) but I'm pretty sure you will, especially if you liked All Quiet on the Orient Express, or anything by the Coen brothers. Mills has the gift of taking a seemingly unlikely and tedious subject and making it totally compulsive reading.