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32 posts categorized "Writing Britain"

03 September 2012

Coleridge, Wordsworth and digital mapping

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I have just come back from this year’s conference of the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS), hosted by the University of Sheffield. This year’s conference theme was ‘Victorian value’ and speakers presented papers on a wide range of topics which explored the idea of value and the valuable within the social, political, ethical, spiritual and aesthetic discourses of the nineteenth century.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended was the Digital Humanities panel, which included a talk by Ian Gregory on the value of using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in studying literary and historical texts of the Lake District. ‘Mapping the Lakes’ is a British Academy funded project by Lancaster University to undertake a literary mapping of the Lake District. The pilot project focusses specifically on two canonical tours of the region: Thomas Gray’s tour in the autumn of 1769 and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1802 tour, recorded in his ‘Lakes’ Notebook.

Using a variety of techniques – including digitisation and tagging of the texts, ‘density smoothing’ to highlight the amount of time spent in/relative altitude of the areas visited, and exploratory maps which similarly use a system of shading to delineate imaginative and emotional responses to landscape and environment - the project has created a number of visualization tools offering different cartographical versions of Gray’s and Coleridge’s tours.

The value for readers and researchers of using such tools is clear: even for the reader who is well acquainted with the region, attempting to visualize the network of relationships between the myriad places mentioned by the poets presents a considerable challenge. The site – beyond its pilot stage – will also allow the integration of a vast amount of disparate data sources, such as images, topographical drawings and census information – which will enable the reader to assess the texts within their wider cultural and historical context. Avoiding the pitfalls of some digital humanities projects, whose sophisticated visualization tools can run the risk of rendering the literary text obsolete and divorcing the reader from a response to the text, the project seeks to enable both an abstract mapping and a geographically enhanced reading: to encourage a return to the text with an increased understanding and enlarged perspective. Offering the chance to overlay and compare the maps generated, the project - taking its cue from the work of the twentieth century poet Norman Nicholson - presents a visualization of the Cumbrian topography as a palimpsest: a landscape whose every detail and feature is documented and can be excavated in multiple literary texts.

Thomas Gray and Samuel Taylor Coleridge both figure prominently in the British Library’s Writing Britain exhibition. One of the sections of the exhibition explores the idea of literary tourism and the Lake District, along with other areas of the country such as the Wye Valley and the Scottish highlands, became one of the centres of tourism when that industry began to develop in the mid to late eighteenth century. Guidebooks for the burgeoning tourist market proliferated (Thomas West’s 1778 Guide to the Lakes was one of the earliest and most influential), informing travellers which places they should see, the correct vantage points from which to view them, and even advice on the correct equipment (eg a Claude glass and sometimes camera obscura) that they should take to facilitate their viewing experience.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Lakes’ Notebook
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Lakes’ Notebook, 1802. © British Library Board

Within this section of the Writing Britain exhibition, visitors can see on display a volume of maps owned and annotated by Thomas Gray and the manuscript of Coleridge’s ‘Lakes’ Notebook, in which he records the nine day tour (or ‘circumcursion’, as he called it) which he made round the Lake District in August 1802. The British Library holds over fifty Notebooks of Coleridge, and this one, which contains his sketches as well as his reflections on the majesty and sublimity of the landscape, is one of the most compelling and moving of the series. Also displayed is one of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals (generously loaned by the Wordsworth Trust), in which she records her walks around the area, often with her brother, William. Alongside this are shown a manuscript of William’s poem (entitled ‘On Seeing Some Tourists of the Lakes pass by reading; a practice very common’) and the 1835 edition of his Guide to the Lakes. Written in 1805, although not published until fifty years after his death, Wordsworth’s poem chastises the tourists who, overly influenced by the popular guidebooks, flock to the Lake District and are content with an inadequate and vicarious experience, mediated through what they have read, of the glorious and awe-inspiring landscape which surrounds them. Wordsworth’s own Guide was written as a corrective to the numerous existing guides to the Lakes and advocates the need for a wholeness of perception (an encounter beyond the merely visual), seeking to communicate to visitors his own love and reverence for his native region.

William Wordsworth, ‘On seeing some Tourists of the Lakes pass by reading’
William Wordsworth, ‘On seeing some Tourists of the Lakes pass by reading’, 1806. © British Library Board

Aligning and juxtaposing these various voices, the exhibition similarly suggests a textual palimpsest, layered over time, created for this area of the country. The spiritual resonances within all of these representations of landscape are key, and these writers’ responses to landscape are situated within a wider nineteenth century dialogue between the value of solitary, individual encounter and the ideal of shared, communal experience. Both the British Library’s exhibition and Lancaster’s ‘Mapping the Lakes’ site offer a chance to reflect on the theoretical and philosophical implications of this debate in our contemporary response to landscape, literature, and the relationship between them, as well as the opportunity for direct engagement with some of the most famous literature of the Lake District.

Rachel Foss, Lead Curator of Modern Literary Manuscripts

Writing Britain: From Wastelands to Wonderlands runs at the British Library until 25th September

16 August 2012

Brighton Rock

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Brighton-Rock-dust-jacket
The image above shows the first American edition of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, as displayed in the 'Waterlands' section of the British Library's summer exhibition, Writing Britain. The dynamic cover design is the work of the celebrated book designer George Salter. Greene's novel forms part of a modest display devoted to the south coast seaside resort of Brighton. First published in 1938, Brighton Rock lifts the curtain on the Brighton of day-trippers, ice cream and donkey rides on the beach, to reveal a landscape of decrepit boarding-houses roamed by razor-wielding spivs. The civic-minded Brighton Gazette was moved to declare the book a 'gross libel' on the town, and it may have had a point. Though the Brighton of the period was indeed afflicted with areas of poverty and slum housing, its level of violent crime was no worse than that of any other comparably-sized town. Greene's fictional Brighton was, as he has admitted in print, a considerable transformation of the reality. In the autobiographical work Ways of Escape, Greene reflected on his artistic treatment of the town he in fact loved more than any other ('No city before the war, not London, Paris or Oxford, had such a hold on my affections.'): 

        I must plead guilty to manufacturing this Brighton of mine as I never manufactured Mexico or Indo-China. There were no living models for these gangsters, nor for the barmaid who so obstinately refused to come alive. [...] Why did I exclude so much of the Brighton I really knew from this imaginary Brighton? I had every intention of describing it, but it was as though my characters had taken the Brighton I knew into their own consciousness and transformed the whole picture. I have never again felt so much the victim of my inventions.

If Brighton Rock presents a one-sided picture of the Brighton of the 1930s, it is nonetheless a gripping one, and one that has endured in the public consciousness - thanks also in no small part to the Boulting Brothers classic 1947 film version and in particular Richard Attenborough's chilling portrayal of the psychotic teenage gangster Pinkie, a role he had previously played in a 1943 stage adaptation of the book.

In the exhibition Greene's novel is displayed alongside a handwritten manuscript page from Terence Rattigan's 'outline treatment' for the film - one of many Rattigan drafts in the British Library's collection - and a vintage copy of The West Pier, the 1951 novel by Patrick Hamilton considered by Greene to be 'the best book written about Brighton', superior even to his own. 

A CD anthology of Graham Greene's talks, readings and interviews, in which he discusses Brighton Rock, the films that have been made of his books, and his own career as a film critic, among other subjects, was issued by the British Library in collaboration with the BBC in 2007. It is available to buy from the British Library online shop

07 August 2012

The Art of Wandering (and competition)

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We did a lot of reading (and walking) in preparation for curating Writing Britain, and one of the authors I found most useful in curating the ‘Cockney Dreams’ section of the exhibition was Merlin Coverley. Merlin’s books on London writing, and especially psychogeographical dérives around the capital (the London Writing and Psychogeography Pocket Essentials), were inspiring and informative in the development of the section.

Art of won

So I was delighted to get an advance copy of Merlin’s latest book, The Art of Wandering, a history of the writer as walker. Walker-writers – Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth, William Blake, Edward Thomas, Iain Sinclair- play a prominent part in Writing Britain, and Writing Britain is referenced in the press release for Merlin's book, alongside a number of other current walking-writing cultural touchstones (the work of Sinclair, Self, Papadimitriou and others).

Merlin’s new book is a perfect accompaniment to, and expansion on, a number of the ideas in Writing Britain, and was in fact written and researched for the most part in the British Library, using our collections. It takes in walkers of all ages and environments- including a wonderful chapter on imaginary walks: from Albert Speer’s circumnavigation of the world in his prison yard, to the Voyage autour de ma chambre (Travel around my Room) by Xavier de Maistre.

Merlin kindly agreed to respond to questions on email, the text of which I reproduce below:

ON THE ORIGINS OF THE ART OF WANDERING…

"The origins of this book grew out of research I had done for an earlier book, Psychogeography, in which I had tried to outline the literary predecessors to contemporary writers such as Sinclair, Ackroyd and Self. By exploring the work of De Quincey and Stevenson, the Surrealists, the Situationists and so on, I was able to piece together a tradition of writing about space and place that obviously had much to do with the role of walking and its relationship to literary composition.

In The Art of Wandering I returned to many of these figures, this time focussing explicitly upon the writer as walker and enlarging the scope of the project to include a much wider time frame. This obviously generated a much larger range of sources and to deal with this I decided to arrange these texts according to the form of walking they represented, from the philosopher to the pilgrim, the visionary to the Romantic, right up to the present day. One of the consequences of this approach was that writers, whose works rarely if ever come into contact, were now sharing the same page. For example, Hilaire Belloc and Werner Herzog came together under the heading of pilgrimage, while Albert Speer and Xavier de Maistre were discussed as examples of the imaginary walker. In fact, I can’t think of another single activity that would bring together such a diverse group of writers as that of walking."

ON THE EXISTENCE OF A CONTEMPORARY WRITING MOMENT…

"I’ve thought a great deal about this question without managing to reach any clear conclusions. This walking moment certainly seems to have become a fairly prolonged one and shows no signs of waning. Intellectual fashions for psychogeography and walking as performance certainly play a part, as does the role of the publishing industry in identifying and exploiting literary trends. But there does seem to me to be a political component too, a way of using walking as a means of challenging prescribed routes and, in particular, a means of drawing attention to parts of the city that would otherwise be overlooked. This has certainly been the case in London over the last 30 years as walking has become tied up with questions concerning the redevelopment of urban space. But then, of course, the same was true of the Paris of Baudelaire and Aragon, and so I’m not sure that we are witnessing something wholly new here, perhaps merely the latest and most visible instalment in an ongoing historical process."

ON DISCOVERING NEW WORKS IN RESEARCHING THE BOOK…

"There are a couple of books which I was very pleasantly surprised to discover while researching this book. The first of these was Albert Speer’s Spandau: The Secret Diaries, which I first came across in Geoff Nicholson’s The Lost Art of Walking, and which was definitely not a name one would expect to find in a literary survey of this kind. Speer’s book is now out of print, but the story it tells is so remarkable, so unexpected, and so unique that it certainly deserves to be rediscovered. I noticed that Iain Sinclair discusses Speer in his recent book, Ghost Milk, so perhaps he is already reaching the attention of a wider audience.

Someone else whom I have read and enjoyed for many years is Arthur Machen, and I had always planned to include his work in The Art of Wandering – not least because I pinched the title from his book of the same name written in 1924. So it was a real pleasure to unearth a collection of his essays and journalism called The Secret of the Sangraal, first published in 1995 by Tartarus Press. Machen writes about London in a way that no other author ever has and his accounts of walks taken through the London suburbs as a young man are amongst the best things he ever wrote."

ON BEING A WALKER AS WELL AS A WRITER…

"I liked to think of myself as a walker before embarking on The Art of Wandering, but having read and written about the pedestrian achievements of De Quincey, Wordsworth and co., I began to see that this term in an altogether different light and I’m now rather reluctant to describe myself as a walker at all. In fact since my children were born my already modest achievements as a walker have been diminished even further and I am now reduced to repeating a short daily circuit to and from school/nursery at an excruciatingly slow pace."

The Art of Wandering is published by Oldcastle Books, and a PDF of the introduction is available for free from the publisher’s site.

**A SIGNED COPY OF THE ART OF WANDERING, PLUS PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY, IS UP FOR GRABS: JUST LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW, OR DIRECT MESSAGE @BLENGLISH_DRAMA, WITH THE ANSWER TO THE FOLLOWING QUESTION: WHICH STOKE NEWINGTON EDUCATED AMERICAN WRITER WROTE THE KEY LONDON WALKING TEXT 'THE MAN OF THE CROWD' (CURRENTLY ON DISPLAY IN WRITING BRITAIN)?**

01 August 2012

Happy Yorkshire Day

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1 August is Yorkshire Day, and as an honorary Yorkshirewoman (married to a genuine Yorkshireman, who greets people with ‘howdo?’) I thought I’d point out that this is a county with a rich literary heritage. It features in four of the six sections of Writing Britain, in around 10 literary works (plus a couple more slightly questionable mentions).

The exhibition opens with Michael Drayton’s enormously long poem Poly-olbion, published in the early 17th century – an attempt to describe the whole of the landscape of England and Wales in a single poem, getting in a lot of local folklore as he went.

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Michael Drayton, Poly-olbion. British Library shelfmark 79.h.3

It’s such a beautiful book that we have two copies of it on display in the exhibition so you can see different pages – the engraved title page featuring Britannia, and the illustration for Yorkshire. The poem itself isn’t great but the engravings are amazing, with rivers and hills being identified by cavorting personifications. I picked Yorkshire to display because I loved the fact that York is demonstrated by a lady in a flowing dress wearing York Minster on her head like a hat (sadly I don’t have a picture, so you’ll have to come and see it in person!).

 

YorkMinsterWest

York Minster. Definitely unsuitable for use as a hat.By Andy Barrett (User:Big Smooth) (Own work) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Also in the Rural Dreams section of the exhibition is one of my favourite books of all time, Winifred Holtby’s South Riding. I will say this: you’d never guess that a 500-odd page novel about a county council could be so gripping – which will be an interesting test when JK Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy, also about a county council, comes out in September. South Riding is set in the 1930s at a time of great change in agriculture and social policy, and features an enormous cast of characters across all society. It’s set in fictional South Riding, based on the East Riding of Yorkshire where Holtby’s mother was a councillor. (Yorkshire fact: Riding means ‘third’ and the three ridings of Yorkshire are North, East and West – so a South Riding couldn’t exist.) We have the first edition on show, with a really beautiful 1930s dust jacket, and were lucky enough to be able to borrow from the Hull History Centre Holtby’s own hand-drawn map of South Riding, mapped over the real places.

Also from the Hull History Centre we have borrowed Philip Larkin’s notebook containing his drafts for his poem ‘To the Sea’. This poem perfectly epitomised a lot of the British literature about seaside towns in the Waterlands section of Writing Britain  – Larkin celebrates ‘the miniature gaity of seasides’ and says that to many people, the concept of the seaside holiday was ‘half an annual pleasure, half a rite’ with many people returning to the same nostalgic spot year after year. It’s an evocative and somehow incredibly British vision.

In contrast to this rose-tinted view of seaside towns, there's Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a novel which might not exist if it wasn’t for Whitby in North Yorkshire. Stoker was on holiday in the town when it’s believed he read a history book which inspired him to write the novel, and which had the reference number "Whitby Library 0.1097." Later he set one of the most key scenes in the book in Whitby, when Dracula enters England during a storm, in the body of a black dog, swimming from an eerie shipwreck which had a corpse lashed to the helm and some mysterious boxes of earth in the hold. It’s a scene that today inspires Goths to visit Whitby for a semi-annual festival, Whitby Goth Weekend.

And finally, one of the more tenuous mentions: most people think of Robin Hood as a Nottingham man, but some early ballads about him record his origins as being in Barnsley in South Yorkshire. On show in Writing Britain is a short pamphlet A true tale of Robin Hood, printed in 1787 in Nottingham (after popular history had situated him firmly there) and made to be sold cheaply on the street.

Other Yorkshire literature in Writing Britain includes: manuscripts of Jane Eyre and Shirley by Charlotte Bronte; Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (and a magnificent photo by Fay Godwin of Top Withens, the farm thought to be Emily’s inspiration); Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies; and even an illustration of Castle Howard which for many is the perfect embodiment of Brideshead in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (although Waugh didn’t use Castle Howard as his model).

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Fay Godwin, Top Withens © British Library Board

And, I almost forgot to add, if you think we missed the best novel, poem, play or song lyric about Yorkshire, please add it to our literary map Pin-A-Tale.

27 July 2012

The Man Booker Prize in Writing Britain (part one)

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The English and Drama office was a place of great anticipation on Wednesday as we waited for the publication of the 2012 Man Booker Prize long list – which eventually, most inconsiderately, appeared while we were all in a departmental meeting.

Anyway in all this Booker excitement I started wondering how many previous winning and shortlisted novels feature in Writing Britain. I did a quick tally and the answer appears to be three – and for all three, what we have on display is the original manuscript.

Graham Swift was nominated in 1983 for his novel Waterland, a book about the Fens, love, loss, and the nature of history and memory.

Waterland

We have Swift’s literary archive here at the British Library (Add MS 88919), and were able to show the original manuscript of the chapter he called ‘About the Fens’, beautifully written in fountain pen. The novel is part of a small group of books in the exhibition which all feature British seascapes or rivers as triggers of memories – the 10th century Anglo-Saxon poem 'The Seafarer', written in the Exeter Book, one of our most precious loans; a graphic novel reworking of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, by David Zane Mairowitz and Catherine Anyango; and the original notebook in which Daphne du Maurier wrote her outline plan for the novel Rebecca.

As part of Writing Britain we approached various authors who featured in the exhibition and asked them if we could go with them to the place they immortalised in their writing and interview them about their inspirations. Graham Swift very kindly agreed to be swept off to the Fens and questioned about Waterland, and I found what he said quite surprising and really interesting:

“I don’t come from the Fens, I’m a Londoner… I’ve never lived here, and my only connection with the Fens is from having written this novel Waterland… But this hasn’t stopped people ever since the book was published from assuming that I come from here or that the book has some kind of autobiographical basis but it simply doesn’t at all, which means that even for me it’s something of a mystery – why did I set this book here? I suppose I have a few theories. One would be – well, when you look around you can see this is a very peculiar environment… not typical of the rest of the country, and when you’re here you can feel that you’re in a foreign country within your own country, and that perspective is one I’ve always wanted in my work… to look at my own country but to see it from the outside. The Fens gave me that focus.”

Graham went on to say that he thought the Fens would be a bland backdrop that would allow the story he was telling to be thrown into the spotlight, but that as he wrote the novel he found that the landscape was becoming so key to the story that by the end it had almost the significance of a main character.

I actually found it really surprising that he said he hadn’t stayed for any kind of extended period in the Fens, and had only briefly visited it whilst researching the novel. However we did find it very gratifying that some of the research for the novel had in fact been done in the British Library!

You can see some of Graham’s fascinating interview about Waterland in this video we made for the gallery, also featuring Robert Macfarlane, Owen Sheers and Alice Oswald.

  

I’m going to save our other two Man Booker Prize exhibits for another blog post but if you want to guess what they are, please leave a comment! No actual prize other than the satisfaction of being right…

23 July 2012

A monstrous creature of the beetle tribe...

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Beetle

A horrific shape-shifting Egyptian Beetle; blackmail; mesmeric powers; blurred gender boundaries;  weapons of mass destruction; the challenge of the New Woman; a gentleman detective; and a train crash…

One of the great joys of curating Writing Britain has been the discovery and rediscovery of books either long forgotten, or never previously encountered.

And one of the strangest – and by far the most enjoyable - of these has been Richard Marsh’s The Beetle.
As the list above suggests, the book is one of the strangest to feature in our exhibition; and when it comes to a check-list of fin de siècle fears, The Beetle really does have it all.

In the novel, Robert Holt is a clerk who discovers the awful realities of being ‘out of a situation’- a risk that lurks close to the surface of the precarious existence of the many other ‘clerk’ texts that we feature in Writing Britain (from the foolish Mr Pooter, to the honourable – if put-upon- Robert Thorne in Shan Bullock’s eponymous novel).

Losing even the meagre comforts of his class, Holt is transformed into a ‘penniless, homeless tramp’. Ejected from a doss-house, he heads towards the west London suburbs where endlessly repeated rows of housing herald disorientating effects. In one anonymous villa, Holt discovers the horrific shape-shifting Egyptian Beetle, who penetrates the suburban security of the English middle classes with mesmeric powers. The Beetle represents the threat of the foreign ‘other’. The independent Miss Lindon, who attempts to overcome the creature, personifies the challenge of the New Woman for late Victorian gender relations.

The Beetle was first published in volume form in 1897, the same year as another Gothic horror novel featured in Writing Britain: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As Minna Vuohelainen shows, reviewers praised The Beetle over Stoker’s (now) more famous work (‘Mr. Bram Stoker’s effort of the imagination was not easy to beat, but Mr. Marsh has, so to speak, out-Heroded Herod’), and for many years, The Beetle outsold Stoker’s classic.

Although neglected for many years since, The Beetle is reappearing on Undergraduate syllabi as a new generation of lecturers discovers the work, and succumbs to its mesmeric powers. The Beetle has been republished in recent years, and is available as part of the British Library’s digitized 19th Century books. Last Friday, Dr Victoria Margree of the University of Brighton organized a one day symposium on Marsh’s oeuvre- which is also, slowly, coming back into print. For a full check list of Marsh’s works, see the extremely helpful Research guide prepared by Minna Vuohelainen; and if you only read one tale of shape-shifting, gender-bending, fin de siècle Gothic horror this summer…make sure it’s The Beetle.

13 July 2012

Sound-making as place-making: Mark Peter Wright’s sound installations for Writing Britain

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Two sound installations commissioned for the Writing Britain exhibition from award-winning composer and sound artist Mark Peter Wright have been playing since its opening last May.

The first of Mark’s pieces cuts gently through the serenity of the gallery space in the Dark Satanic Mills section, which is dedicated to the literary responses to the changes brought to the country by the Industrial Revolution. It offers a refined continuous sequence of original sounds from fully operational cotton-making machines of the industrial era. Mark makes extensive use of field recordings in his practice and for this particular piece he recorded at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Although Mark says that nothing has actually been done to the recordings, ‘other than layering some on top of one another and long fades’, the ability to arrange invisible machine sounds in a rhythmical composition for a social and intimate appreciation is, in my opinion, an undeniable achievement.

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The second installation plays in the Waterlands section, which focuses on the lakes, waterways and seas of the British Isles. Sourced from recordings of the rivers Rye and Swale, and at various points on the northeast coast, towards the North Sea, this composition cradles the visitor on a navigational experience of the manifold sonic qualities of water, from the soothing sound of flowing streams to the rumbling waves of the sea.

Each piece is intended as an ambient soundtrack, a diaphanous flow of sound which leaves the exhibition goers at leisure to their readings of the many physical displays. Nonetheless the installations have at times brought out unexpected reactions, like that of a particular visitor, who having been captivated by the literary works on display, mistook the industrial sound installation for a malfunctioning ventilator.

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The exhibition is on until 25 September 2012. Please come along and do prick up your ears!

Listen to excerpts from Mark Peter Wright's installations

05 July 2012

James Berry's 'Windrush Songs'

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I was very pleased to be asked to select something from the James Berry archive for Writing Britain as the exhibition has provided the opportunity to display drafts from one of the poet's most significant collections, Windrush Songs, which was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2007. The collection, which consists of three sections 'Hating a Place You Love', 'Let the Sea Be My Road' and 'New Days Arriving' charts the experiences of Berry and others from the Caribbean who felt compelled by circumstances to leave their homelands and seek opportunities abroad. As Berry himself explains in the introduction to the collection the decision to leave was often tempered by mixed emotions as 'here we were, hating the place we loved, because it was on the verge of choking us to death'.

The drafts in the exhibition (one, handwritten notes and, another, an annotated typescript of the poem 'Wanting to Hear Big Ben') illustrate Berry's juxtaposition of Standard English with the rhythm and rhyme of the Jamaican language with which he grew up. At the top of the page of handwritten notes Berry describes Windrush Songs as being a 'Comprehensive and Full Poem Recording Caribbean People's Becoming Part of the British and European Way of Life'. Yet the mixed feelings that I have already mentioned mean the the collection is something of a love letter to the country that Berry left behind. In the 1940s many emigrants' views of England stemmed from their schooling and the colonial relationship that the Caribbean had with Britain. Berry explains how passengers on the SS Orbita 'talked about our own voyage and how we were going to see the England that we'd read about in our school books, where everything was good and shining and moral'. It is easy to understand why they would be keen to see Big Ben, the sound of which had been familiar to new arrivals since they first heard childhood recordings of it -

'and have me rememba, how,

when I was a boy passing a radio

playin in a shop, and a-hear

Big Ben a-strike the time'

As well as this material from the James Berry archive, which the Library acquired in December 2011, the exhibition also includes printed volumes by Berry's friends and contemporaries, Samuel Selvon and Andrew Salkey. Salkey, a writer and journalist was one of the founder members of the Caribbean Artists Movement, in which Berry was also to play a significant role. London has had a long history of welcoming waves of migrants from around the world and I hope that the inclusion of this material goes some way to raise awareness more widely of the important impact of the Caribbean diaspora on British literary life.

These images show James Berry looking at his drafts in the exhibition and further material relating to Windrush Songs in his archive -

JB exhibition snap

James Berry 2