Psychogeography

Trentham Colliery in 1983. This site is now home to Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium.

I write poems about places. and their effect on people. Some of what I write is about the natural world, and some is about the human landscape. Having grown up on the periphery of Stoke on Trent I had an interest in industrial landscapes. I’m interested in what Paul Farley and Michael Symmons-Roberts call “Edgelands”; in wilding and rewilding, climate change, archaeology and the anthropocene. In 1983, my parents bought me my first SLR camera and I went walking around the city taking photos of old buildings, shard-rucks and marl pits. Many of the places I photographed have now been bulldozed and replaced with endless retail parks – who can be doing all this shopping when so many skilled and well-paid jobs have been lost?

A pot bank at the side of the A50 in Stoke.

My overwhelming impression of the Potteries of my childhood is that everything was brown. There was so much brick, so many old kilns, condemned housing and cobbled back lanes. In 1968, the City had more derelict land than anywhere else in England.

A shard-ruck, or spoil heap, at Doulton’s bathrooms. I think that is the old Victoria Ground in the distance.

I’m not sure I really understand the concept of psychogeography, as defined by Guy Debord:

“the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

and I don’t feel much like a ‘flaneur’ either – it sounds too louche, too purposeless, and too enjoyable. But I know that the city I grew up in has had an influence on me and I look at everywhere I have lived since through the eyes of a ‘Stokie’. I think of the literal heaps of spoil we put up with and thought were normal, of the time I saw Longton Brook and its overhanging trees festooned with multi-coloured toilet paper after some sewage disaster, of the wasteland and unofficial playground at the end of our street which was known as ‘The Dump’ where the ruts of old railway sleepers were still visible on the ground from one of the branch lines Beeching ripped up. And I write about the suburbs – all the cheek-by-jowl living of the urban environment combined with the countryside’s nothing-to-do.

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