Right to Roam, 80 years on

April 21, 2012 § 2 Comments

Kinder Downfall, 24 April 1932

The mass trespass on Kinder Scout, in which 400 ramblers walked onto the plateau in defiance of the landowner, the Duke of Devonshire, was the key catalyst of the Right to Roam movement and the establishment of the National Parks.

The wind makes faces in the grit stacks:
totems and gargoyles squint and grimace.
The air here is half water: mouths suck
and gape in the rock.  Bristle grass,
brown, bone-pale, shudders like hide,
grips each edge and cleft.
It is endless, a stranded reef
which seeps and surges indefinitely.
Paths slip under streams; pools hover;
stones become sheep become stones.

Look out.  Follow the water’s drop
into green distance.  There is sun
glinting the reservoir, its drafted edges
bright as a chalk horse; there is a town
in the hills’ shade that was once
a gathering place.
The wind is hard from the west,
a skein of voices in it, thin but clear
as curlews’.  Their songs’ rising
crests the brown moor and flies.

This poem was written for The Seven Wonders, a project initiated by artist Paul Evans which revisited Thomas Hobbes’ De Mirabilibus Pecci: Being the Wonders of the Peak in Darbyshire.  Other poets contributing to the project were Mark Goodwin, James Caruth, Chris Jones and Matthew Clegg.

Noises off

April 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

I discovered last week that there are certain species of cricket that can tell you how hot it is.  Apparently, they rate at which they ‘chirrup’ is directly related to the temperature.  All you need is to count how many in a minute, add 40-odd, and there you are.

In the same week, the government has produced a list of 50 things a child should do before s/he’s 11 and 3/4.  I daren’t look (my son is 12 next month) – but I’m sure it is about trees, conkers, mud and frogspawn.

And then there’s Kathleen Jamie in the Guardian Review, looking hale and hearty and outdoors, asserting that stepping outside is ‘the simplest act of resistance and renewal.’

Hopefully the first of these observations makes it abundantly clear that I identify thoroughly with the necessity of the second and third.  I am one of those poets who has sought out, and drawn inspiration from, the wild places; and if I shied away from ‘the list’ (apart from the fact that I find the manner of such exhortations annoying) it is because I was young in a world of mud and frogspawn which sustains me still – and consequently, anything which draws attention to the fact that my children don’t have access to the same resources, for whatever reason, makes me depressed and rather guilty.

Anyway.  The fact about the cricket was in a radio programme in which an expert in ecological soundscapes (I was painting the kitchen, so didn’t catch all the details) visited a woodland before and after a logging company went in there.  Despite the company fulfilling its obligation to replant the woodland, with the result that the landscape looked, after a period of years, more or less unchanged, the soundscape had been greatly altered.  Despite the replanting, a habitat long in evolution (and as a result both rich and finely balanced) had been destroyed.  It sounded emptier.

This makes me wonder: is the current generation of poets, drawn out beyond the edges of our towns and streets by a need to encounter the ‘outside’, the last to experience it also as a reconnection with a childhood place?  Perhaps not: the world I remember is a Kodacolor 70s, not Edwardian sepia.  Jamie grew up on the outskirts of Edinburgh, between the urban and the rural.  My childhood was similar (and in the same period): the lights of Sheffield one way, the fox on the track the other.  The soundscape was indeed rich and varied: larks and yellowhammers and the splash of carp in a summer dawn; but also the dull clash of the steelworks and the ceaseless drum of traffic on the M1.  In fact, perhaps the hum of our urban lives heightens the sound of owls or rain to a finer pitch.  Resistance is a small, significant act.

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