2013 – Other highlights

Poetry certainly seems to take up the larger part of my mind in 2013 but there were some other highlights. Not necessarily things that were produced/released in 2013 – just things I saw, read, heard in 2013.

1) Seeing “The Book of Mormon”….I don’t even like South Park that much – but this was so funny and deeply, deeply subversive. Truly postcolonial.

2) Reading the novel Open City by Teju Cole – Sebald in the City -and African to boot. Brilliant

3) Barbara Kingsolver’s novel - Flight Behavior. I loved her early short stories but lost faith a while back – then gave this a go. The central image of Monarch butterflies fluttering across an Appalachian valley is moving – and pertinent given recent news stories of lost and diminishing butterflies. Keep reading Nicholson Baker – and Traveling Sprinkler was deeply funny and resonant (The Mezzanine remains an all time classic – a novella length study of moving one flight up an escalator).

4) Reading (several times over) Explore Everything by Bradley Garrett. I supervised the PhD this is based on and it was a joy. I am proud of the end product. Expect a lot more! Have been most deeply inspired by reading various Michel Serres and Manuel DeLanda books – thanks to another successful PhD student – Craig Martin – for these tips.

5) Music – loved Arcade Fire’s Reflecktor but not quite as much as the Suburbs. Discovered Phosphorescent. Saw Monsters and Men on the insistence of my son in Shepherd’s Bush – now on my playlist. Saw Fiona Apple live in Boston and she was brilliant – vulnerable, strong, kooky, creative and talented with percussion on headgear. One of the most startling live performances I have ever seen. I am as big a Dylan fan as anyone in the world but even I did not believe that Self Portrait could be rescued until the latest instalment of the Bootleg series. Went to See the Gypsy is a highlight as is I threw it all away. Johnny Flynn live. Laura Marling’s new album. Listening to Bon Iver endlessly. The National. Two people I know and admire released great new albums – the sustained slow boil atmospherics of Anne Watts and Boister’s Your Would is Your Crown is top notch.

Also the Fugitives released Everything Will Happen. Full of anthemic banjo-driven stadium folk – AND this wonderful reflection on the difficulties of life and death.

6) Films – lot of good ones. An old movie – Big Bad Love - finally got the DVD and loved it. Just saw Inside Llewelyn Davis with high hopes – it fell slightly flat but since then it has grown stronger in my head as I think about its Ulysses like structure and studied shaggy cat story nature. Loved Blue is the Warmest Colour despite the controversy. Philomena  was brilliantly acted and powerful. Saw all these at the Coolidge Corner Theatre near our new home in Brookline. A lovely proper movie theatre with a community feel. Mud  was suitably filthy alt-Americana – even when seen on the Queen Mary II. Saw the DVD of Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell - a genre-bending auto-documentary of sheer brilliance.

Well this is all based on a sudden urge to account for such things at the end of New Year’s Day 2014 after a Gin Martini and several glasses of wine – I am sure more highlights will re-emerge…but these all meant something to me.

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2013 – Some poets that have moved me.

Reading lots of list in the papers and on line put me in a reflective mood. A number of different things that I have read have moved me this year and will undoubtedly stay with me and worm their way into my own writing.

This has been very much a year of poetry for me – including, of course, the release of Soil. My bookshelves are groaning under the weight of slim volumes. The best advice ever given to a writer (ten times more important than the second best bit of advice) is read.

1) Lorine Niedecker - Lake Superior and Paean to Place.  I discovered Niedecker in a bookshop near the Cooper Union in New York. On the table of recent and recommended was an attractive beige (not two words normally seen together) slim plain volume with the words Lake Superior on the cover. Inside is one poem that manages to be both long (over several pages) and slight at the same time. Short lines, each word doing the work it needs to. The rest of the book is voluminous notes and essays. In poetry workshops we are told to think about each word and get them in the right order – get rid of words that do not need to be there. If everyone did that then poems would be like Lake Superior – geologically precise. An inspiration for my own writing of a sequence in progress set in Svalbard. Niedecker lived in Wisconsin and scrubbed floors – her work loved by important (male) poets but largely ignored by most – a kind of objectivist Emily Dickenson. Much of her life and her relationship to place is conveyed by the moving and watery Paean to Place – sometimes Wasteland-like in its aqueous insistence. The best use of alliteration I can remember. Beautiful spaciness.

      Water lily mud
My life
in the leaves and on water
My mother and I
in swale and swamp and sworn
to water

A great reading (once you get past the superfluous watery noises) can be found here

2) Frank Bidart – Metaphysical Dog. Sometimes you have to see and hear a poet for it to hit home. I have read and admired Bidart in a cool kind of way for a while. But listening to him in Cambridge (MA) library did it for me. This book manages to ruminate on highly abstract and consequential themes while operating on emotional, intellectual and bodily levels all at once. Elegy for Earth imagines looking back at Earth after it has ended.

“Those who are the vessels of revelation

or who think that they are


us with the promise of rescue”

3) Jorie Graham Place. Another poet I tried hard to ‘get’ for the longest time and it suddenly clicked with this collection and a title I could not ignore. Graham inhabits forms she uses over and over again. This time, long lines with shorter ones hanging off of them. Ruminations on the space between the microscopic detail of life (pruning a wisteria) and the grand themes of space and time. A book more about the idea of place (and time) rather than places (and times). I have written an essay on this and sent it to the American Poetry Review. Here’s hoping.

4) Sue Goyette Ocean and Outskirts. I find Canadian poetry speaks to me in unusual ways for someone brought up in a nondescript town in Oxfordshire – all domestic interiors and vast tracts of wilderness. Don McKay and Karen Solie remain huge favourites. But this year I discovered Sue Goyette in beautiful books produced by Brick and Gaspareau (as a side note – why do these presses manage to produce such stunningly beautiful books with thick paper and appealing covers – the future of books I think). Goyette layers languages from specialist texts with her own embodied take on the wild world of oceans and suburbs. Ocean is 56 poems about the ocean set in Halifax or there about. Here is an extract from ‘Five’

The incline to our streets was first invented

as an easy way to feed the ocean tethered

to the end of them, We’d roll down bottles

of the caught breath of our gifted sermons.

We’d drag skeins of dream talk. Little hoofed

arguments. The ocean was a beast in our care

and it was in our best interest to keep it fed.

Outskirts has plenty of ocean and fog in it too – but uses slightly longer lines to interlace reports on erosion (for instance) and more human landscapes in startling ways.

5) Katherine Larson - Radial Symmetry. Science and poetry brought together by a research scientist. I find the language of science extraordinarily rich for the poet. And it is used to great effect here. Love at Thirty-Two Degrees starts with dissecting a squid.

That was the thing

there was no blood

only textures of gills folded like satin,

suction cups like planets in rows.

and then, at the end

Science  -

beyond pheromones, hormones, aesthetics of bone,

every time I make love for love’s sake alone,

I betray you.

6) Tony Hoagland - Incorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty. A very different collection of poems – amusing, political, populist even. Brilliant pacing and timing. Acute observations of popular culture and everyday life. I was laughing aloud in the London Review of Books Bookstore where I found it.

After I heard  It’s a Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall

played softly by an accordion quartet

through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,

I understood: there’s nothing

we can’t pluck the stinger from

The collection includes a hysterical take on Britney Spears, cell-phone sounds, the differences in language between parents and their children – you get the picture. The contrast between the poems here and the poems in the books above is quite stark but I love both the spacy reflective engagement with the stuff of the earth and the funny, sharp engagement with the modern human world. I find myself writing in both these ways and it can be quite disorientating getting a continuity in tone while doing that.

7) D.A. Larson - Useless Landscape, or, A Guide for Boys.  This one had to be for me with a title like that. The insides are full of poems and prose-poems on history of both the land and the self. It mixes some of the concerns for the land with sly references to the popular now. And plays with form and space in interesting ways too. There is more body in this book too – in this case, a gay body. Geography, history and libido all mixed up thoughtfully. Here is The Price of Funk in Funkytown

Because I have no sense

and I like the way it sounds:

if I was to buy me a little place,

I’d buy me some bottomland.

The reason that the bus is always stopping here

is that it used to stop here.

Nothing’s bound to change until we make it change.

“I’ll get off when I want,” the gentleman announces.

“I’m getting very old. Besides

I’m leaving.”

I realise that all of these poets are north American. That seems to be where my head is at at the moment. I have really enjoyed many British poets too. Nick Laird’s new book is great for instance (though a kind of trans-Atlantic sensibility permeates it with one foot in NYC). I keep returning to Kathleen Jamie to get a sense of a spare and beautiful reflection on humans in ‘nature’. Jean Sprackland’s earlier books are great though I have not read the most recent yet. My ‘stablemate’, Claire Trevien, is a wonderful poet who is getting a lot of deserved attention.

But perhaps the thing that has moved me most is this video of Matthew Dickman reading – I was lucky enough to see him early in the year at the Poetry Cafe in London.

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Self Portraits of a surgeon – Geographer Self

Originally posted on Landscape Surgery:


The truth? I’m still not sure I am a geographer.

Over the last year I’ve become more comfortable claiming to be one, or at least marginally less fearful of being exposed as a fraud. But at parties my go-to response to the dreaded question of “what do you do?” is: “oh, I’m a writer.” If the conversation survives this admission, and I happen to mention that I’m doing a PhD, and I happen to mention that the PhD is in cultural geography, I might make an attempt at explaining how these things are linked. I might say, “I write about geography.” This is not really an explanation, but if you say it confidently enough, it almost sounds like one.

“Writer” was not always – is not always – a comfortable identity either, though. It took me a long time to learn how to say it without cringing, to stop…

View original 844 more words

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Geography and Writing Essays

A new set of ‘cultural geographies in practice’ essays are available on-line on the cultural geographies website. They all concern the practice of writing in and beyond geography and include essays by myself, Ian Cook et al, Dydia Delyser, Rob Kitchin and JD Dewsbury


My essay reflects on the process of writing as a poet and can be found at http://cgj.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/10/18/1474474012466117.full.pdf+html

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Video – The Politics of Mobility

The second of three small videos I made in Paris is not up on the Mobile Lives Forum site and can be found at http://vimeo.com/76535371

It recounts the contents of my paper ‘Towards a Politics of Mobility’ from Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, 28: 17-31


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New Video on Mobile Lives Forum “Mobility Channel”

Before leaving London for Boston (my new home) I visited Paris for the day to film three short films for the Mobile Lives Forum – a research institute set up and resourced by SNCF – French national railways. It was a good day which ended with a visit to Shakespeare’s Books and a quick wine and steak tartare. It was then I realised that I had not changed by watch and had to get to Gare de Nord in a hurry! Anyway, the filming was fun. Now the first of those films has gone live and can be seen at


In the film I outline the basic structure of my approach to mobility developed in my book, On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World.

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Geography in Action – Two recent events

As i have been involved in a big move from London to Boston/Brookline my attention has been to drawn to a couple of news stories in which geography, as I understand it, looms large.


A recent legal ruling in New York City cast doubt on the legality of police stop and frisk powers. The New York Civil Liberties Union tells us that these powers have been used more than 4 million times since 2002. Around 9 out of 10 of those stopped have been completely innocent of having done anything illegal. Close to 90% of these stopped were black or Latino.  This is a stark example of the politics of (im)mobility  that mirrors similar practices from London’s past with the so-called ‘sus’ laws of the 1970s. But this is not just about non-white people being stopped from moving around the city. Movement at the bodily scale was also implicated.  The New York Times reports that the Judge who has questioned the legality of the practice “noted that officers routinely stopped people partly on the basis of “furtive movements,” a category that officers have testified might encompass any of the following: being fidgety, changing directions, walking in a certain way, grabbing at a pocket or looking over one’s shoulder.” (New York Times 12 August 2013). This forms part of a long history of ‘furtive movements’ that have been policed, regulated and disciplined in the workplace, in leisure activities (such as dance), in transit spaces (such as airports) and simply moving through the city.


On arrival at Heathrow Airport, David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald, was detained and questions without legal representation for nine hours. Glenn Greenwald had been reporting on the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden. Miranda was detained under anti-terrorism laws from 2000. Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. There are many disturbing aspects to this incident. But one that caught my eye as a geographer was the way in which schedule 7 defines certain spaces as ones in which it is possible to detain a person for up to 9 hours without legal representation or any charges being made. It is only at airports and other border spaces that the police can act in this way. An innocent person detained in these spaces has fewer rights than an actual terrorist being detained in a police station. Anywhere else in the UK such actions would be entirely illegal. Miranda is only the most high profile person to be stopped under these laws. As with the stop and frisk laws there has been considerable concern that schedule 7 unfairly targets minority groups. Geography Matters.

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