Aug. 7th, 2011

sheenaghpugh: (Trollfjord in Norway)
I've been involved in a Facebook discussion about the naming and evoking of places in poems, and how the naming of places, while it can sometimes invite the reader in, can also sometimes exclude. At one point the poet and translator Peter Daniels, who's kindly given me permission to quote him, remarked 'There are poets that can evoke "my place" as a magic invitation to the reader (e.g. Yeats with Innisfree, Longley with Carrigskeewaun), and others (e.g. Brooke with Grantchester) that are too much of a private party - "you had to be there"'.

The more I think about it, the more I think it hinges on the fact that places, at least as far as people are concerned, exist in time and context. However much we may love a place for its landscape, its light, or anything else intrinsic, it will also, in our minds, be the place where we grew up, or fell in love, or were happy in our work. And while everyone's particular place-references will be different, the roles those places occupy in their history will be similar and can be evoked by a writer referring to a quite different place, provided he/she somehow finds the universal element that links them. As usual, example is easier. William Barnes has a poem called "The Wife a-Lost" (he wrote in Dorset dialect) in which a grieving widower spends all his time in a gloomy grove of beech, a place his wife disliked and never spent time in. The rationale is simple:
Below the beeches' bough, my love,
Where you did never come,
An' I don't look to meet ye there,
As I do look at hwome.
- he feels some easing of his grief in this grove because it's the one place where he does not expect to see her at every turn. Now this particular place-association is specific to the poem's narrator, but almost any reader could empathise with the basic idea, and substitute his own place for the beech-grove.
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December 2011

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