At this point, I should probably try and explain a little about the subject of my PhD is actually about. My MA final project was a book entitled “Tales From the Urban Prairie”. It was an exploration – in prose and poetry – of a brutalist housing estate in Sheffield. I’d lived on Kelvin Flats for several years and was incredibly upset when they were knocked down. It had an appalling reputation that seemed to be made up by people who had never lived there. I wanted to tell stories about the site before, during and after the life of the estate.
It was enough to get me onto the PhD and is being published early next year.
In my naivete, I assumed that this was ‘psychogeography’ and waxed lyrical about it in the foreword. It turned out – after a frustrating nine months of study – not to be. So, I had to radically rethink both my title and the projects I had planned to do. Apparently, this is quite common but given my low self-esteem issues, I was convinced that this would signal the end of my PhD journey. Getting through the Major Review was a total, ecstatic surprise!
The original title was “The Poetry of Nowhere: A Psychogeographic study of Liminal and Abandoned Spaces, Edgelands and other marginal landscapes,” which all sounds terribly grand. Unfortunately, for reasons I’ll talk about later, it’s an unworkable title. I’m still writing about liminal/marginal landscapes/edgelands, but a lot of what I do is highlighting historical stories, folk lore and – ahem – the emotional resonance of a space. It has little to do with psychogeography and derive.
I suppose I’ve learned that much!
Where with the MA I could mostly rely on memory and nostalgia, any new work needs new experiences to write about. Sitting about on your backside all day being terrified of going out doesn’t really do a lot to provide inspiration.
I got around some of that isolation by seriously abusing Google Earth! There are places out there that I know better than my home town thanks to walking around them by proxy. Unfortunately, it’s the Skyrim thing all over again. There’s no sensory or emotional input, no feeling of being part of the space. It’s all surface. I know the map, but not the territory. As a result, any of the poetry I wrote about the places I’d ‘visited’ came across as shallow and sterile.
The only option I had to complete the PhD – to my satisfaction more than anything else – was to actually travel to the places I wanted to write about. That meant travelling around the coast of the UK and, more frighteningly, travelling around Norway. These were the pitches I gave in order to get on the PhD.
Terrified as I am, these are the things I’m having to do.