‘Place-faithful’

In an essay titled ‘Ghost Species’ Robert MacFarlane writes about a visit he and a friend went on in 2007. It was to a farm on the Norfolk fens. A small family-run affair in the midst of large agribusiness concerns. The three farmers, a father and two sons were eking out a living on their farm. The farm had been a going concern for many years, like so many similar ones once on the fens. It was the only one there of its kind now. Other farms had been consumed by new farming practices. Innovation and commercial pressures making vast field size one of the most visible features of these changes. Macfarlane argues that the farmers and their farm’s situation made them ‘ghost species’. Normally the term 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 and produce new generations without intensive support from man. Species most at risk of this perilous state are those that to do not keep pace with their physical situation. Species whose environments out-evolve them. These are the ‘place-faithful’ and the farm and farmers appeared to MacFarlane to fit this description. I thought the term ‘place-faithful’ could also be a positive thing. Wanting to stay somewhere or wanting to always return to a place. That would describe me perfectly. I love where I live. Reading the essay I questioned if I modified in my environment so I could stay? Would I be out-evolved by something? These questions led me to ask what I actually knew about the place I was faithful to. What were my boundaries? Where are 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 place?


Before I began to research how others wrote about place I re-read two poetry collections. First, Alice Oswald’s ‘Dart’ and Ted Hughes ‘Remains of Elmet’ as these are the poetry books I own that are named for actual geographically identifiable places. Whilst reading them both suggested to me how time as well as geography infused a personal sense of place that is of importance. I believe I will return to these writers as I experiment with my own poetry. Another four months past of questioning myself on what place and faithfulness as well as ‘place-faithful’ might mean to me I decided to explore the questions in a more systematic way and write those reflections or results down. The original question of personal modification of environment had already become subsumed to that of climate change. I believe that the global climate is changing and that human activity does change climate. So my 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 is been altered in response to both the threat of flooding and flooding events. 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 did I get to the edges of my place? I do not drive. I walk or cycle and use public transport. During the time I conceived this project my normal lifestyle had been out-evolved. Restrictions were in place on travel by the UK government in response to SARS-Corona Virus-19. Travelling for non-essential purposes on public transport now made the coastline out-of-bounds. I cannot walk or cycle there within a day. This situation frustrated so much that I bought an electric bike. This purchase marked a turning point for the project. It felt the right time to begin writing the exploration. I am not clear how I shall write the place I am faithful to. Perhaps by writing in this place (the website) I will learn to write the place I am going to explore.


I hope to write some poetry about the places I visit. This is perhaps the only certainty I can rely on. Whether any other form of writing will develop from my thoughts beyond reportage was something I do not know. It is also important to me that I acknowledge any reading I incorporate into the 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 about. If it is to be academic then I need to learn to write in that discipline. Could I illustrate any aspect of the project with other authors work as well? I understand about some aspects of about plagiarism, although for example, how much you can quote, from a poem to publish on a personal website 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 often not as hard as continuing to write and that the questions will be there whether I answer them by writing or not.