Places that shape us

Jean Sprackland - 15 November 2009

Two weeks ago today, I moved a van-load of my belongings from the small coastal town where I've lived for 20 years to London. I live between the two now, shuttling back and forth on the West Coast Main Line, trusting I can learn to feel at home in two places at once.

Places are intensely important to poets - to some more than others. Some poets' work is full of the places in which they've made their homes or which have inspired them on their travels. In his residency on these pages last term, Owen Sheers wrote fascinatingly on this subject, providing a commentary on the BBC series 'A Poet's Guide to Britain'. But how does it happen, and why? Is it as simple as looking out of a window and being inspired by the view? My own experience suggests it can be something different - something subtler and richer and more gradual. It took me 15 years of living on the coast for the coast itself to start finding its way into the poems, and even then the poems were hardly ever directly about that landscape - it was more like a setting in which the poems took place. My poems often begin while I'm walking, and I noticed that they were becoming full of the big skies and the palette of colours and sounds and smells I experienced as I walked. But it was more than that - I felt as if I had, over time, internalised my local landscape, and it had become a psychological as well as a topographical phenomenon. All of which makes me wonder what will come next, now I find myself in the very different spaces of a big city. And which other poets are closely affected by their physical surroundings, I wonder? On the Poets page of this website, you'll find a map of the UK which allows you to search for poets by region - are there any surprises here?


I don't see how any writer or artist can avoid being influenced by the place in which they live. In a poetic context this makes me think of small presses and magazines which have a regional or local flavour. One well known mag even calls itself The North, which sends a pretty strong signal about its preferences. In turn theese publications tend to attract writers who come from that part of the country or affiliate themselves with it, geographicaly or culturally. Hm... I wonder whether this is a good thing or potentially divisive?

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