Even though my PhD is written (and I'm nervously awaiting the viva!), my interest in all things brain-and-mind-related hasn't gone away, of course. And my interest in poetry is as constant as my interest in breathing. So 'Poetry on the Brain' will continue as a blog, but the focus will shift away from neuroscience and psychology and towards poetry and psychogeography, alongside the projects I'll be working on at The University of Leeds.
When I say 'psychogeography' I'm (disingenuously) using a fancy shorthand for my enduring interest in the connections between people and the places they live, or where they think of as 'home'. My first collection 'Division Street' bears witness to my fascination with place, place names and the ways that landscapes make us feel. But Rebecca Solnit sums up how I think about place much better than I ever could, emphasising the reciprocal relationship between people and environments:
“...we often talk about love of place, by which we mean our love for places, but seldom of how the places love us back, of what they give us. They give us continuity, something to return to, and offer a familiarity that allows some portion of our lives to remain connected and coherent. They give us an expansive scale in which our troubles are set into context, in which the largeness of the world is a balm to loss, trouble and ugliness. And distant places give us refuge in territories where our own histories aren’t so deeply entrenched and we can imagine other stories, other selves, or just drink up quiet and respite.” (from 'The Faraway Nearby')
I'm going to be a Cultural Fellow here at Leeds for two years, working from an office in the School of English and I'm looking forward to finding out what kind of scale and continuity Leeds gives to people who love the city. While I'm here, I'll be working on a second collection of poems (many of them themed around mountaineering and mountaineering women) and a novel set in South Yorkshire as well as encouraging dialogues across University departments and between writers all over Leeds. I'll be setting up a project called 'Leads to Leeds' inspired by and modelled on the brilliant website LikeStarlings which will encourage collaborations between poets across the city and showcase their new work - watch this space for the project website which will be ready soon.
With those themes in mind, it's the centenary of Dylan Thomas's birth today, so it seems apt to finish with some lines from his poem 'Fern Hill', a poem which meanders artfully and elegantly round themes of place, time and age, a poem that always makes me think of landscape as a strange canvas:
...Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
I'll be sharing details of Leads to Leeds - a website and project framed by the idea of being held 'singing' by place and time - soon.