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on 20 February 2011
In this, quite simply wonderful, book the poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts explore and reflect upon that familiar, yet often unknown terrain, between city and countryside. These are the 'Edgelands', found on the periphery of cities and larger towns; landscapes of wasteland, landfill sites, ruins, allotments and wild gardens, graffitoed road bridges, sewage plants, woodlands and unexpected paths.

Both writers, presenting a single narrative voice, capture beautifully, in elegant descriptive prose the essence of place. They are wide-ranging in their associations bringing in comments on modern culture and often introducing how other poets and writers - from Wordsworth to Seamus Heaney, have themselves encountered these places. They also introduce visual artists who have documented some aspect of 'Edgelands' territory. Other people's stories are occasionally woven in to the stories of the authors' own journeys.

I noted, from the acknowledgements, that the authors' editor at Jonathan Cape was the Poetry editor, Robin Robertson, and one can imagine the stroke of creative brilliance, on his part, in bringing together these two writers to create this book.

Here is just a taste - from the chapter on 'Ruins' of the way in which the authors put you right in a place and enable you to experience it, through your senses, for yourself:

'Pieces of broken glass click underfoot. Every few paces the floor becomes spongy with pads of mossess until eventually you're standing on a hard and level surface. The air smells cold and musty, uncirculated, tinged with motor oil, mildew, brick dust, black unguents. Somewhere high above, there's the ghost applause of a pigeon, before - a hundred yards or so in front of you - you hear the harsh metallic rattle of big shutters being rolled open'.

This is the best book I have read in 2011 so far and it may almost certainly prove to be one of my personal books of the year!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 April 2011
Edgelands is about those vague and undefined places that surround our towns and cities, damaged places, changing places, burnt, bombed and abandoned places - places that we pass through when going somewhere else.

This book comes as a natural extension of "The Unofficial Countryside" by Richard Mabey - a book which is referenced early in Edgelands and one which has clearly had an influence on the thinking of the authors. But while Mabey focuses on the natural places and spaces, the two authors of Edgelands focus on human spaces and impacts. If Maybe's book is an ecology of wastelands, then this book is about the sociology or even philosophy of the same spaces.

"Edgelands" are clearly a mixture of the native and the manmade, a synthesis of the natural and the artificial, and this mixture seems to have entered the nature of the book itself.

It may be just me, but I found that the authors reached for other people words just a little too often, so that the book becomes more of a synthesis of other people thoughts rather than the notably original synthesis that Mabey managed about the same (or at least similar) ground.

Now this does not make this a poor book - far from it, but I cant give it the rave review that other people have done.

In summary - this is an interesting, very well written book about an overlooked landscape. I would recommend it to anybody who has an interest in landscape history and / or philosophy, but I am not completely convinced that the book does not say many things that have been said elsewhere.
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on 2 May 2011
I had some lingering doubts when 'Edgelands' was first published. Two poets trying to expose some of the wildnerness areas - and especially in the north west - that I'd come to regard as my own. Lyrical when lyricism just wasn't there or just an attempt to tart them up for wider public exposure. Rather selfish now I come to think about it - a bit like being really annoyed when somebody reveals a magically secluded and jealously guarded holiday spot.

Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts: to you I apologise. What convinced me to buy the book and to recommend it to others was your compelling reading on Radio Four's Book of the Week at the end of April. (I tuned in at 9.45 in the morning and, to the repeat at 12.30 at night when it was a delightful preface to the shipping forecast.)

In the opening chapter, the authors gave credit to where credit's due - to Richard Mabey for the originality of his work nearly 40 years ago, to Alan Berger's 'Drosscope' where the edgelands were set out in a uniquely American way, and to Marion Shoard who did what we'd all like to have done and added the word to our lexicon.

I've noticed, probably only in the last 12 months, how often real ctitics and reviewers of the arts have referred to something that's just a bit different or with a hint, perhaps, of the avant-garde as 'edgy'. Farley and Symmons Roberts have gone a lot further than that in taking us into places where we may once have hesitated to ventue. they have brought to us a new regard for often marginal areas which might have been dismissed as ugly, even threatening, wasteland.

For me, edgelands were often deserted marshalling yards leading from railway tracks, overgrown and neglected cemetries, abandoned pits or forelorn bakeries regarded as surplus to the requirements of the modern consumer. Readers of 'Edgelands' will make their own choice from the 28 categories that Farley and Symmons Roberts include in their book. Each one offers a different insight, a new perspective and a reminder that there is far more to England's sometimes not so green and pleasant land than perhaps we once thought. Sorry, I doubted you gentlemen and I'm delighted to put the record straight.
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on 8 June 2011
Like most working people in this age of online retail, I arrange for my parcels and large deliveries to be sent to me at work. This thankfully bypasses what can be an enormously frustrating encounter with the vagaries of the postal service for me here in Tunbridge Wells. As any attempt to try to redirect a parcel by mail or phone to my local post office usually ends with Kakfa-esque confusion, I have to go to the depot directly. As I don't have a car, it's necessary to take a short train ride to the wonderfully named but sadly nondescript "High Brooms" station and then walk to the outskirts of an unsightly industrial estate for about 20 minutes. This journey weaves its way through a forlorn estate and then with only a tall steel fence for company, I have to scramble along the roadside as the council deemed it unnecessary to even have a pavement out there. Only then do I come to the out-of-town collection of architectural eyesores that make up these vital civil resources, a place where everyone else has the good sense to drive to and exit sharply.

These monuments of no-mans-land are given definition by Edgelands, a tour of man-made features that occupy the unmapped areas between town and country. Poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts grew up in the sprawling enmeshed network of suburbs that now link Liverpool and Manchester together; a jigsaw of landfill sites, warehouses, sewage "treatment" farms, allotments, electricity pylons and other vital elements of our civil geography. Industrial historian Tim Edensor calls these areas "spaces of and for nothing". They call this "England's true wilderness" - an accurate observation given how much of the rural countryside has been documented in an artistic fashion over the last five centuries years or so.

Roberts and Farley eschew the fashion in what is termed "psychogeography" nowadays in that they seek to celebrate these unsightly blots instead of decrying their obvious lack of aesthetic value. Some of the chapters are accompanied by the inclusion of a contemporary artist or poet who is attempting to reshape or reinterpret these landscapes, such as photographer Henry Iddon, who takes long-exposure images of Cumbria from the high vantage points of Coniston Old Man, making towns and roads "like seeing the ghost of heavy industry, its long-extinguished blast furnaces and smelting plants and ironworks, all fired up and working again. The edgelands must lie somewhere between this Romantic night and that crucible of molten tungsten, sodium and halogen."

Elsewhere, they invoke the strong literary history of Britain and its fascination with this scenery - T S Eliot's Waste Land being an obvious example, or W H Auden, who apart from his timeless quote "A culture is no better than its woods", was also fascinated by mines and felt at home in this area.

Tramlines and slagheaps, pieces of machinery

That was, and still is, my ideal scenery

There's a fair amount of amusing humour and insight here. One memorable chapter deals specifically with Pallets - "consumer capitalism's red blood cells" - where the authors decide to visit a yard. They imagine it somewhat like Legoland, in that if Britain can build a pencil museum, then at some point these vital if unseen carriers of the world economy should be recognised and celebrated accordingly.

It's this irreverent approach and insight that makes Edgelands a delight to read. There's no attempt either to inject a current of pseudo-social analysis into these areas - instead they redirect artistic or aesthetic interpretation to the reader. Once you pass through the first few chapters, the style and writing becomes more cohesive, as Farley and Roberts tread through these regions. By the end, you might be tempted yourself to document or at least recognise them as integral to our landscape as more pleasing parts.
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on 19 January 2012
I'd heard good things about this book - I enjoy finding splendour in the apparently mundane, the liminal inbetween, so Edgelands seemed like it was going to be something I'd greatly enjoy. Unfortunately the book is a kind of Edgelands in reverse; it looks wonderful on the surface, but is actually empty when you begin to explore it.

The authors get off to a bad start by being rather sniffy about "intellectual" psychogeographers, and I'm afraid it's all downhill from there. The book consists of a series of rather arbitrarily chosen chapters ("Wire", "Bridges", "Sewage"), broken up into vignettes relating to each chapter heading. The trouble is, there's no sense of narrative flow, no goal to the text, no sense of discovery - instead, there are lots of "what if?" "maybe one day..." conjectures that are frankly rather patronising ("If you are going to get spiritual, you really need a path to walk, preferably through trees to add a brooding atmosphere. Where would yours be?" they ask, like primary school teachers addressing a class).

The text is also rather repetitive; there's only so many times you can hear about drivers "unwinding" roundabouts before you want to shut the book with a sigh. The authors have clearly followed Geoff Manaugh's BLDG blog template of imagining untold futures, but they just don't have the flair or depth of foresight to pull it off. It's rather easy to be seduced by the ideas of the unexplored, forgotten hinterlands, but when you actually think about what the authors are writing about, you quickly realise that there is no real point to the book; they don't really say anything profound or thought-provoking, they don't move you or encourage you to see things differently, the book is just sort of "nice".

It wasn't for me. Disappointing.
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on 27 June 2012
If you're interested in those non-places that we're supposed not to see - the bits under motorways, up alleys, beside roads, around cities - don't read this book, read Iain Sinclair's Ghost Milk, or go out and wander with a camera and notebook. Edgelands is far too generalised, substituting fine writing for facts.
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on 5 May 2011
Bought this book off Amazon after hearing about it on a Radio 4 review. Sounded interesting and different. Really enjoyed the book- it was escapist and thought-provoking. Once read, you will never look at 'edgelands'the same again - i.e. the way natural wilderness either re-establishes itself, or survives, when man impedes on England's open spaces by buidling, e.g. retail parks. After reading this book, you will never be blind to the areas around you when you stop at traffic lights.
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on 8 July 2011
This is a charming book and ought to go forward as a classic. "Edgelands" is not a page-turner; you can't read it in one go like a thriller. To the contrary it is a book in which you need to read a chapter at a time, think about it, then go back, read a bit more, then read the next bit. I guess that most of my generation (just pre-war) know what Farley and Symmons Roberts mean by "Edgelands". Things were less well defined then. My own hinterland, on the borders of an industrial midlands city was a right old mixture of remnants of a rural past and post war small industry. You could go potato picking in the season but work in a small boot and shoe factory or in hosiery production. You could work in a scrapyard full of war debris, bits of aeroplanes, tanks and the like. Or you could catch linnets and goldfinches in clap nets and sell 'em. What a mixture! but it conforms to the author's conception of a new kind of wilderness which my generation recognise instantly. These places, then and now, offer a kind of freedom which is transient, diverse and valuable.
There are some clever ideas in this book besides lyrical passages which celebrate everything, ordinary and extraordinary. I was very taken by the idea of the cyclical natural history of a typical car. It is unloaded and corraled at a huge wholesale site in Edgelands. It is sold, moves out into the city or the suburbs, commutes, goes on holiday,is serviced but eventually wears out and is disposed of. Guess where? In a demolition site in Edgelands, thus completing a cycle involving geography, money, people -all of our contemporary lives.
There is much in this book for everyone: natural history, industrial history, social history and comment. The book itself is "On the Edge". Highly recommended.
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on 22 March 2013
The authors are at their strongest when they align their tour with literary insights - poetry and prose - from other authors, but this doesn't occur often enough to sustain interest. By definition, the edgelands of England aren't the most inspiring places, but there is not enough delight in the quotidian; too much sentimental glancing back at the playgrounds of childhood. There is a disjointed feel to the chapters and a sense of padding out to reach the required word count.
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on 3 October 2012
This reads like a work in progress: notes towards a poem that doesn't yet exist. There is no strong structure or sense of narrative. Chapter titles such as "Cars", "Landfill" and "Retail" only hint at the digressive sprawl underneath. There are observations (sometimes acute), snippets of geography and social history, childhood recollections and flights of fantasy. There are also the kind of literary references you should expect in a book by two poets. All of these are parcelled up into sections small enough to make this ideal reading material for the lobby of an edgelands hotel.

I hoped for a revelation, something that would reveal to me the occult wonder of DIY superstores and coal-fired power stations. I didn't get that of course. I was, however, educated and entertained, which will do until that poem comes along.
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