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Journeys into England's True Wilderness
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!