Edgelands

Edgelands is a sequence of poems adapted from the classical Japanese tanka form. Tanka follows the spirit of haiku in many ways, although it bestows two extra lines. It shares haiku’s preoccupation with time and place, although traditionally it deals with themes of love and longing to a greater extent. I dispensed with the syllabic rules whenever doing so made a better poem. This was nearly always.

In reach from this rising ground,
A frayed nylon rope is hitched
To a pylon’s lowest rung.
Boys swing out over nettles,
Staring skywards through barbed wire.

On one level the sequence is about a man dealing with a painful separation by taking a series of walks into his locale – the edge of north Sheffield. On another, it is a work of what is now being called ‘psychogeography’. How do our built environments express elements of our consciousness or unconsciousness? How are we affected by the spaces we inhabit or move through? The environments in the sequence are not conventional pastoral. This is the world of abandoned car parks and factories; industrial estates; common land and woods on the edge of housing developments; all the neglected paths and conduits out of the city.

Low branches over the weir.
A scarf of torn fabric
Hangs and trails like a dead
Heron’s wing – elegant, stark;
The colour of ash soaked by rain.

Edgelands is also a celebration of walking – of how the slow rhythm of walking is a way of deepening our being in the world. It is about how it opens us up to surprise. As Rebecca Solnit says in her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, ‘every walker is a watchman on patrol to protect the ineffable…’ The ineffable can be many things, not always rarefied. What is a boy swinging under a pylon thinking as he looks up at the sky? What is implicit in a severed squirrel tail on the roadside? Why does a frayed scarf snagged on a riverside branch bring tears to the eyes? The edgelands are populated by such minutiae. Recording it all was a sustained act of care and attention over three months of walking in the summer of 2007.

Matthew Clegg, 2009

Edgelands first appeared in pamphlet and matchbox formats from Longbarrow Press in 2008. The matchbox edition comprises 56 poems, from which 50 were selected for the pamphlet. A revised and resequenced version of Edgelands (comprising 40 poems) appears in West North East. Listen to five poems from Edgelands:

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