Poetry Pin Field Trip and Student Poetry Publication
In February 2015, students from BSU went on a trip to the Poetry Pin Project in West Somerset. We’re delighted with the news that a MA student Lucy Summers and MA tutor Prof. Terry Gifford will both have the poetry they contributed on that day published in the poetry collection resulting from the project, A Walk Down the Rift (Fly Catcher Press, 2015). MALLE tutor Dr Samantha Walton reflects on the trip and the publication.
On a bright and uncharacteristically warm day in February, a group of MA students and BA students from Bath Spa took a walk down the rift with Chris Jelley, the leader of Poetry Pin. Poetry Pin is a geo-located poetry project based in the divided landscape around Hinkley Point. Face the sea, and to your left rugged coastlines extends for miles, tall cliffs spotted with nesting birds and below, long fingers of sandbars touched by the returning tide. To your right, the bulk of fresh earthworks being raised by lorries so enormous they look like toys, rolling across a landscape being reshaped around the boxy white bulk of Hinkley Point C. Its owners, EDF energy, describe it as ‘the first in a new generation of UK nuclear power stations’. During 2014 and early 2015, the Poetry Pin Project invited walkers, writers and readers to follow a trail around this morphing landscape and to respond to what they saw, heard and felt on the way. According to the Poetry Pin website:
Hinkley Point and the Shurton Bars landscape are on the verge of immense change, they sit on an axis, poised to witness the shock of the new colliding with the old. This landscape is dynamic, full of flux and change, jostling with heat and sleep in equal measure. This place is ready for ideas to spawn, it is a place where new writing can be born.
When I took the MA and BA group to meet Chris for a focus walk along the trail, I was stunned by the effects of the rare and bright early morning winter light on the hills and fields. But every turn of the head revealed a contradiction. Orchards whose trees’ branches were grey and glimmering with frost were cut with the burning white hull of the reactor. Fields turned over by plough ready for planting seemed like miniatures of the mass-earth moving taking place just the next hill. As we followed Chris along the route paced out by Poetry Pin, I discovered that one of the great strengths of the project—and one of the reasons it had nurtured such varied writing—was the open approach of the organiser. Chris explained to us all the observable ways the landscape had changed since he had been walking the path, but didn’t pass comments on the rights or wrongs, losses or gains of the process. This commitment to impartiality is affirmed on the website, which states that:
Poetry Pin is a creative space, it has no agenda than to support creativity, it is neither pro or anti nuclear and views or opinions expressed through this portal are those of the authors.
Such lack of bias achieved just what it set out to do: to support creativity, and create a space for the diverse impressions, strong opinions and individual responses of writers along the rift to be recorded. As our phones and iPads pinged into life at a certain spot where a poem had been located by a past walker, we experienced the landscape at a past moment, through a different eye, opening up a range of responses and perspectives which could be complex, impressionistic, personal, or challenging. Although our group had only walked the path once, the poems revealed the changes to the landscape in layers. Reading let us peel those layers back and experience the place like locals who had watched the change. There was something spectral about the landscape we looked on, and also something paradoxically familiar. The writing of hundreds of strangers had made us intimate with the place.
Although it’s no longer possible to submit poems to Poetry Pin, the project does have a real legacy. For the next year, you can walk the trail and reveal the poems as you go on a device with data connection. A selection of poems added to the trail will also be published in a book, A Walk Down the Rift, to be published by Fly Catcher Press in October. At the MALLE, we were delighted to find out this week that our MA student Lucy Summers and a tutor on the course, Prof. Terry Gifford, will both have poetry they submitted to the project that day published in the final collection. These were poems written just as we settled on rocks on the beach after the long walk through fields and past the drone of construction. There was little time for editing and none at all for re-drafting. There is a freshness and immediacy to the poems we read on the walk down. I’m looking forward to reading Lucy’s and Terry’s contribution in the collection. They have added another layer to the place, and another way of looking.