Talking Place
A Symphony of Voices
Advertised as a symposium, this conference brought together writers and artists over three days—2nd, 9th and 10th September 2022. The first day was online and free to attend. The second and third were in-person at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation* centre in Manchester, England, and places were offered on separate days on payment of a modest fee.
As far as I’m aware, and please correct me if I’m mistaken, it was the first major event in the UK that focussed purely on place writing. As such, when we look back I think we will describe it not only as an inaugural conference (because I think there will be more from the organisers), but a seminal one for its impact on the recognition of place writing as a genre. (I use the word ‘genre’ advisedly; I’ll circle back to terminology in a future update.)
Presentations were given by a variety of speakers. Authors talked about their books, academics explained their research projects, and artists and poets presented collaborative work. Yes, there was a lot of talking! I could list the speakers and titles of their presentations but, if I did, this Substack update would look and read like a conference programme and I don’t think that’s what you’re here for. The question that continually challenges me, and others, is ‘what is place writing?’ I went to the sessions with an open mind in the hope of gleaning new insights. Here I pull together some of the key threads that kept emerging.
I was reminded that place is relevant to many different creative methodologies from drawing and painting to walking and planting. And a gamut of physical spaces were cited by the speakers as inspirational, examples being a mountain side, a canal mooring, a sewer, a converted church, a suburban street, a burial site, a collection of city roundabouts, an orchard, and the ever-present footpath.
When we use place for creative writing purposes we are involved in an immersive experience.
When we use place for creative writing purposes we are involved in an immersive experience. The following ideas were highlighted by most of the speakers:-
Through the process of deep mapping we research the history of place, examine the landscape, and search for an abundance of perspectives, before making connections.
The location becomes a target for the laying down of memories, and the subsequent unpacking of them.
Our appreciation of place provides an opportunity to take sensory journeys noticing nature and habitat by walking and exploring and making discoveries.
We investigate human and non-human engagement with place and aim to understand feelings of belonging.
When writing about place benefits can be obtained by putting time and distance between the research and being-in-place and the remembering of experiences.
If we could sit down and chat I think each of these five points could occupy us for quite some time, and then perhaps we could write an essay on each of them. Do any of these ideas connect with you? Are some of them relevant to your own creative practice?
*Manchester born Anthony Burgess was a writer, poet, broadcaster and musician. A teacher and prolific artist, he served in the army during the Second World War, travelled widely thereafter, and died in London aged seventy-six on 22nd November 1993.
Credits and Links:
Symposium organised by Women Talk Place.
Visit the International Anthony Burgess Foundation
All photos my own.
Let’s get together on Twitter or Instagram.
Post Halloween, I’ll be drafting a piece about my experience as a Writer in Residence in the crypt of St Pancras Church, London.
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Bye for now!
Yasmin. I enjoyed your post. Your post reminded me of some words by Rebecca Solnit about the experience of walking- here they are: “The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. This creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making. And so one aspect of the history of walking is the history of thinking made concrete — for the motions of the mind cannot be traced, but those of the feet can. “ Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (public library).
Thank you for this really interesting post. I had hoped to get to the symposium but in the end wasn’t able to. The wonderful term 'deep mapping' was new to me, and when I looked it up, I found this on the Wikipedia page: ‘BBC Radio 4 has recently undertaken several series of radio documentaries that are deep maps. These are inspired by the "sense of place" work of the Common Ground organisation.' I wondered if you knew which programmes this refers to - sounds like essential listening!