Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts: Edgelands


Somewhere in the hollows and spaces between our carefully managed wilderness areas and the creeping flattening effects of global capitalism, there are still places where an overlooked England truly exists, places where ruderals familiar here since the last ice sheets retreated have found a way to live with each successive wave of new arrivals, places where the city’s dirty secrets are laid bare, and successive human utilities scar the earth or stand cheek by jowl with one another; complicated, unexamined places that thrive in disregard, if we could only put aside our nostalgia for places we’ve never really known and see them afresh.
Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts, Edgelands

I grew up on a Leeds council estate, in a village bordered by several working farms and patches of woodland that distanced us from the sprawl of Leeds to the north and the town of Morley to the south. During my childhood that distance diminished, as the woods were sliced through to make way for the M621 motorway, and the farmland was gradually sold off and built upon. The places I used to roam all fell into the category of ‘edgelands’ – decrepit farms, old pits, abandoned building sites, scrap yards, overgrown embankments, hedgerows, railway tunnels, collapsing warehouses and crumbling car parks. I couldn’t have known it at the time but these places made me, more so than the formal educational institutions ever could have. I learnt all the important lessons in these places, whether mucking about with my mates or, more likely, when I was alone and thinking things through. This book should therefore be right up my street, and it is, but as the two authors are poets with distinctively different styles and perspectives, the collaboration – no matter how much common ground they might share on the subject – is not always successful and in places looks like the paragraphs were assembled at random. Some chapters are better than others, especially the piece on ‘Dens’ (which they rightly recognise the making of as a dying art form), but overall it’s well-intentioned but flawed effort that, in its unruly and rambling structure, unintentionally mirrors the very places discussed.

Since the book’s publication, ‘Edgelands’ has since become a defined marketing term for all kinds of art projects and ‘curated’ exhibitions. Two of the better ones are the paintings of Nick Hedderley:


and the solo album by Underworld’s Karl Hyde, unsurprisingly entitled Edgelands, which bears the some influence from his collaborator Brian Eno, but works really well as a soundtrack for wandering around the arse-end of any town or city in Britain, tripping over bits of rubble or rusty cider cans poking through the weeds.

Karl Hyde – Cut Clouds


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