In a recent review of Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness, Robert Macfarlane remarks that the English scrubland between town and countryside is a theme that seems currently to be occupying the national consciousness. The border country that this book describes is the territory which people pass through on their way to other places; the no man’s land traversed by motorways and criss-crossed by telephone wires. Macfarlane is completely right: not only have two poets, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, written a book about the edgelands, but the BFI is organising a short film festival on the subject of ‘liminal Britain’ later in the year.
The idea of edgelands immediately reminds me of Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Here’. The first stanza of the poem swerves ‘through fields/ Too thin and thistled to be called meadows’, pausing every so often at a ‘harsh-named halt, that shields/ Workmen at dawn’. Unless I have mistaken Larkin’s meaning, this is a picture of the edgelands. The poem describes a journey which has begun in ‘isolate vilages’ ( ‘isolate’ suggesting the word ‘desolate’) and ends in a grey market town. The land in between is abandoned and unnoticed, a dead zone skirting settlements. The poem stretches its gaze away from the ‘cut-price’ commerce of the town, beyond the wasteland where ‘Hidden weeds flower’, and out towards the sea. Here finally is a truly empty landscape, not neglected, but out of reach.
Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows