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Parents' & Friends' Zone
OBs & Foundation
25.06.2012 - Literary Event reviewed by Anna Selvey
Guests at Robert Macfarlane’s talk on his new book
The Old Ways
blew through the School’s main entrance on the back of a solstice storm of wind and rain, an appropriately transformative experience to begin the evening’s events. In the most precise, yet lyrical language, Macfarlane spoke as a kind of visionary about ‘The Old Ways’: paths and tracks on land, on liminal spaces that blend land, sea and sky, and on the ‘whales’ ways’ of the oceans themselves, linking lands and cultures, physically and in the imagination.
He spoke with quiet conviction about the power of walking both to centre and to destabilise, exploring the notion of striding out as a cheap form of psychoanalysis, practised by poets like Edward Thomas, trying to out-walk their depression in their chosen landscapes: but also the idea of walking
a landscape, and desiring to belong inside it. Ultimately, though, Macfarlane seems to have found walking a way to encounter the self. He gave a memorable account of a walk on the Broomway, a notoriously dangerous path on a silt estuary on the Essex coast, possible only at low tide. Here, he found himself centred, in the midst of a mudflat ‘mirrorworld’ of shallow salt water, reflected from the knees up, ‘like a playing card king’, worrying that the moon’s magnetism might fail, and the tide come in.
Macfarlane is fascinated as much by the language as the physicality of the landscape; the poetic precision of the geology and the scientific terms that name it, and place names as a kind of archaeology, which can be excavated to find poetry. His quiet litany of the many different names given through time to the Iknield Way (
Yken, Ychen, Ycken, Ayken, Iceni, Icening…)
sums up the mood and experience of the evening: the audience in the centre of a found poem expressing the consensual nature of paths, both physical and metaphorical, and how they mean something different to each walker.
Many thanks to all involved in the organisation of the evening; to Andrew Dimberline for his closing words; to the student band for their superb entertainment and to the Arnolfini bookshop.
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