Nearly two weeks out of London, and the countryside is beginning to have an effect on me. I move more slowly, I notice birdsong and wildflowers more acutely, perhaps because there are fewer distractions imposed by other humans. It is restorative. But I could never give up London entirely. It is too quiet here, and once you have lived in a city for a long time you require a certain amount of noise and activity. I will never be a country person, or for that matter, a pastoral poet. In a previous post, I came to the conclusion that I am an urban poet, perhaps by default, as I am uncomfortable with the idea of engaging with nature al la Alice Oswald or Ted Hughes. It is not who I am, not what I know. It seems easier to speak of the built environment, things created by humans for humans. The natural world is largely alien to me. Harriet Tarlo, the editor of the recent The Ground Aslant: An Anthology of Radical Nature Poetry has mentioned ‘the complexity of the relationship between writer, land and language.’ And Richard Mabey poses the question: ‘Isn’t a life of words the very antithesis of a life of nature?’
In Suffolk, the desire to describe every aspect of the landscape is overwhelming, because everything is visible at once. You can see a field in front of you, and the field beyond, and the field beyond that, stretching to the horizon. The sky is enormous and dramatic at all times, in all weathers. The curlew’s mournful cry, which I had never heard before I started coming here, is the sound I most equate with this part of the world.
So is there hope for me as a born-again pastoral poet? Possibly. Little sprigs of flowers and migrating birds are creeping into my poems. They will never completely replace the landscape of concrete and asphalt, but they mean something, they have a purpose. I am not entirely sure what it is yet, what metaphors they carry, apart from the obvious ones of beauty and tranquillity. I don’t really do “beauty” in my poems, not in the conventional sense, so I am waiting to see if new themes emerge from breathing in all this pure country air.
In the meantime, little pink frills of thrift and white spikes of saxifrage have appeared in the garden. At the very least, it must be Spring.
The image is a painting of Butley Creek by Kate Giles