‘Place-faithful’


Early in 2020 I was given a late Christmas present, a Granta magazine from 2008 devoted to Nature writing. Here, I first read in Robert MacFarlane’s essay ‘Ghost Species,’ the term ‘place-faithful,’ which he used to describe the situation of a family and their small farm in the Norfolk fens. The farm had become surrounded by large agribusiness and theirs was the last one of its kind in the area. Normally the term ‘place-faithful’ is used for non-humans – those species who are made non-viable in their natural habitats. I think of giant pandas or white rhinoceroses in captive breeding programmes, animals who cannot thrive to produce new generations without intensive support from man. Species most at risk of this perilous state are those that do not keep pace with their physical location, species whose environments out-evolve them. Until that point, I would have thought the term denoted a positive condition. Wanting to stay somewhere or wanting to always return to a place – it described me perfectly. I love where I live. Reading the essay, I questioned how much I had modified to my environment? Would or could I be out-evolved by it? These questions led me to ask what I knew about the place I am faithful toward. What were my boundaries? More accurately where were my ‘place-faithful’ boundaries? How well did I know them? How might I describe them? What about the places in-between? How had/did others write about edges and the place between?

I began by re-reading Alice Oswald’s ‘Dart’ and Ted Hughes ‘Remains of Elmet’ two poetry collections named after geographically identifiable places. Whilst reading them, both suggested to me how time as well as geography might infuse a personal sense of place. This seemed to be important. I believe I will return to these writers as I experiment with my own poetry. After four months of questioning on what place and faithfulness, as well as ‘place-faithful,’ might mean I decided to explore the questions in a more systematic way and write those reflections or results down. My original question of personal modification of environment had become influenced by ideas on climate change. I believe that the global climate is changing, that human activity has/is change climate, therefore my own activity plays some part in global climate change. When Simon Armitage became Poet Laureate, he stated his belief that art, artists, poetry and poets should all respond to climate change. It was a responsibility. Should this responsibility underpin my writing of place? I live in an area that has been altered in response to both the threat and the reality of flooding. To write about my experience of ‘my place’ would certainly mention flood defence work. That would naturally lead to the consideration of boundaries. There was also a practical question of travel. How should I get to the edges of my place? I do not drive. I walk or cycle and use public transport. During the time I was considering this project, my normal habits and my environment became out-evolved. Restrictions were placed on travel by the UK government in response to SARS-Corona Virus-19. Travelling for non-essential purposes made the coastline out-of-bounds. In lockdown I choose to use the exercise allowance to work on my allotment plot. Any thoughts of visiting what I identified as my ‘place-faithful’ on hold for an unknown period.

I am not clear how I shall write about the place to which I am faithful. Perhaps by writing in this place (the website) I will learn to write of the place I am going to investigate. I hope to write some poetry about place and the places I visit. This is perhaps the only certainty I can rely on. Whether any other form of writing beyond reportage will develop from my thoughts, is something I do not know. It is also important to me that I acknowledge any reading I incorporate into that writing. Whether the writing I publish on the website needs to be recognisable as academic writing or some less rigid form, I am not yet sure. If it is to be academic, then I need to learn to write in that style. Could I also illustrate any aspect of the project with the work of other authors? I understand about some aspects of (about) plagiarism, although how much you can quote, from a poem to publish on a personal website is something I do not know. There is also the technical ‘how’ of fieldnotes to consider. My instinct is to try to make everything perfect from the beginning, but this is not possible. It is impossible because I cannot pre-empt experiential learning or any insights the various processes of writing itself may produce. What I do know about myself is that starting to write is not as hard as continuing to write and that the questions will be there whether I answer them by writing or not.