Poet in residence

This term's poet in residence

Owen Sheers

Look, Stranger! By Owen Sheers
11 May 2009 - 02:18 AM

In this week's film we're taken to the North Yorkshire Moors with a poem by a poet who knew this landscape in literature and through the memories, character and stories of her new husband, but who had never actually been there herself before she wrote these poems. Sylvia Plath's 'Wuthering heights' was a fascinating subject for this series for many reasons, but I became increasingly interested in it as a great example of a poet writing powerfully about a place not from a position of familiarity, but with the invigorated vision of a stranger.

It isn't surprising that some of our best poets of place are poets who know their particular landscape intimately, deep in the bone. Frost in Vermont, Edward Thomas in the English and Welsh countryside, Heaney in rural Ireland. It's through such intimate knowledge that a unique vision and access into what Hopkins might call the 'inscape' of a place is often achieved. Through long familiarity with a landscape, a poet's vision is given depth born of detailed observation, and breadth from an increasing store of knowledge about the weather, history, flora and fauna, all of which can emerge in the perfectly precise word, phrase or image. There are times when a line by Heaney describing the irish bogland, or RS Thomas evoking a bird on a cliff in Wales feels as if it is backed up by centuries of accumulated experience, linguistic shifts and historical events. Which of course, they are, poetry providing the sharpest leading edge of all those elements of place. But then there are times when the opposite can also be true, when the sense of wonder inherent in the vision of a newcomer provides a different, but equally energised vision. I know I experience this to a certain degree when I travel. I moved to New York 18 months ago. In those first few months my notebooks were full of observations of the ordinary life of the city. Over the months, however, what had once seemed strange lost its sheen of otherness, of newness and I found myself having to look harder to see beyond the dulling of familiarity. The best poems and poets do just this - look through and beyond what we know well to describe it in such a way as to make us see it afresh again. Plath's poem about the Yorkshire Moors is a wonderful example of this, charged as it is in every line and image with this voltage of seeing things clearly, right to their heart with new eyes. I wonder if any of you have had this experience - had a place you thought you knew well suddenly revealed to you anew by a poem or song? I'd be interested to know...hope you enjoy the film.

12 Comments at the moment

Owen at 11 May 2009 - 08:51 PM

sorry, that should have read West Yorkshire Moors...

Rebecca Paul at 12 May 2009 - 10:45 PM

can you contact me please? i have a report that i have to interview a poet for school.

Owen at 12 May 2009 - 11:35 PM

Feel free to ask me a question on here Rebecca, if that helps. Owen.

Clare Morgan at 13 May 2009 - 09:23 PM

I'm really enjoying the programmes. Particularly enjoyed last night's on Plath.

Nancy at 13 May 2009 - 09:54 PM

I have enjoyed both programmes but particulalry the one on Plath. When I started secondary school we had to learn a poem by heart from an anthology we were given. I chose 'Wuthering Heights' and can still remember it now some years later! I lived near the W. Yorks mooors at the time and it was a poem that completely changed my relationship with the landscape. The images really enable me to articulate all that I felt and to look at landscape in a new way. I think it began to move me as an adolescent from being someone who only read stories to a reader of poetry. So thanks very much! I am really enjoying the series and only wish there were more programmes like it available.

David at 14 May 2009 - 07:56 PM

I've watched this programme twice now. I like the way you confound the expectation that we will meet the Plath we think we know (if only by reputation). I wish your programmes could be twice as long - and the series even longer.

Yakoub at 15 May 2009 - 09:50 AM

Thank you. Your film inspired a poem: http://www.bayyinat.org.uk/waliyy.htm or here's me reading it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptGiJS2RXWA

Cait at 17 May 2009 - 07:36 PM

Hi Owen! Really enjoying the series! We've been studying your poems at school especially Amazon. I was wondering if you could tell me who it was written about. Thanks! x

christopher rogers at 18 May 2009 - 09:59 AM

Hi Owen, really looking forward to tonight's programme. I'm doing an English Degree, first year, and your programmes have really given me confidence in finding my own voice when giving readings. Thank you.

Caroline Gill at 18 May 2009 - 11:07 PM

http://carolineatcoastcardlandlit.blogspot.com/2009/05/postcard-31-bronte-and-plath.html My blog post inspired from your programme. Greetings from Swansea.

lisa at 20 May 2009 - 11:12 PM

I'm absolutely gutted - a series on poetry on TV at a time when I have no signal; living in the midst of the French Alps and after a winter of oh so much snow that the dish has been jiggled out of kilter. However, just reading your description of the series and the poems is such to give me a taste of what it had to offer and lead me to read poems I had not read before. Inspiring. Love love love Plath, and Wuthering Heights just socks it to you with her amazing use of words - almost malleable, tangible; I feel I could pick up the pieces from the page/screen and hold them. Would love to ponder the question of whether any poem has changed my view on a place ; so frustrating then that I cannot find a copy online of Woods by Louis MacNeice as I grew up in Dorset.....any links to sites where it can be found known?? Have already got Poetry Archive on my bookmarks, but oddly enough hadn't logged on for a while and came to your week in residence via a writing course link. As I cannot get Podcasts in France either, when will any anthology be available of the series? Thanks, and I look forward to reading more about the series....

eleanor watkins at 8 Jun 2009 - 09:56 PM

After watching tonights program on louis Macneice's poem 'woods'I wanted to read it myself but I can't seem to find it online. Do you know where I can find it?

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