October 2009


Pity Me, Durham, by Eric Haswell

In the long tradition of obsession with place-naming in the British Isles, there can be few contributions as simply beautiful as the title piece from 2009 T.S. Eliot-prize winning poet Jen Hadfield’s Nigh-No-Place. It took me a year from its publication to ‘discover’ for myself this incredible book, and I’m ashamed to say that I’ve yet to buy Almanacs, her previous set from that most regarded of modern avatars, Bloodaxe Books.


In reading, and re-reading, “Nigh-No-Place” from its eponymous volume, I shifted from the initial adoration of its language – a landscape in and of itself, with consonant peaks and vowel valleys; rivers of dashed joinings and roads built of repetition – and began to wonder about these places Hadfield names.

Which brings us to the wonderful ‘crowd-sourced’ project, Geograph, an online attempt to gather photographs of every square on the Ordnance Survey grid of the British Isles, and organize them into a cartographic database of images of the landscape. Not all of Hadfield’s locations are in Britain – some are named as Canadian; others might not be part of the landscape itself, but buildings and roads, or part of the mythological landscape that hovers above the physical one. But many, indeed, were easy to find on Geograph’s easily searched database of imagery. (more…)


Alchemical Reaction

“The continental cold air spills out / towards these islands in time of quiet,” Chris Torrance says in the second page of his endless long-form poem sequence, The Magic Door: a lyrical establishing shot for a career as hot-to-the-touch and as full of ruptures in the cultural continuum as it is quiet and given to Thoreau-like servitude to its natural environment.Chris Torrance’s Magic Door acts as a shibboleth to the understanding of a Britain that’s as post-Druidic as it is post-hippie; quite literally a door into a British poetic life that spurns all manner of “success” in favor of the quiet continuity of the poetic act.

For almost as long as I’ve lived, Chris Torrance has written The Magic Door, momentarily erupting like tiny tors of the South Wales Basal Grit in long-awaited published chapters – 1975, 1977, 1980, ’82, ’86, 2008 (nearly). Paper-bound chapbooks done in runs of 300 as long as 35 years ago, as soon as I began to read of Torrance, I began the process of trying to read Torrance, knowing it might long be a futile search.

So it was with great excitement that I unbundled my packet from Cotswold Books recently, (more…)