Every week during the Covid-19 lockdown, the Black Country Studies Centre will be bringing you videos and blogposts about life in the Black Country, past, present and future. Expert speakers will give you insights to their subject and research, as well as sharing their recommendations and links for finding out more. Catch up with previous episodes here.
This week we are joined by author and lecturer, R.M. Francis. Rob is a lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton. He’s the author of five poetry pamphlet collections. In 2020 his debut novel, Bella, was published by Wild Pressed Books and his full collection of poems, Subsidence, is due out with Smokestack Books. In 2019 he was the inaugural David Bradshaw Writer in Residence at Oxford University. Here, Rob considers the unique and poetic beauty of the Black Country landscape…
As a Black Country writer, one of the things I find most exciting and curious in this region is its strange, beautiful and often off-kilter landscape. I think it acts as both a literal and metaphorical symbol of our communal identity and is fundamental to that unique spirit of place that comes to mind when we think of the Black Country.
A good example of this is found in the places where urban and rural mix, where green space and grey space fuse – our post-industrial realms. Places like Wren’s Nest and Saltwells. Here we find lush nature reserves, full of diverse flora and fauna, the remnants of our industrial heritage, domestic life on the housing estates of Dudley, and the prehistoric residues of the Silurian era. It’s this web, soup or solution of disparate elements that produces that marginal, sometimes surreal, often Gothic genius loci.
Chain Coral is an interesting element to consider in this. A now extinct form of colonising coral that formed 480 million years ago, and, in part, is responsible for the rich grounds that gave rise to the Industrial Revolution – the chain coral produced the chain makers. In turn, chain making helped produce the links of cultural and communal place-identity, where workers laboured together, lived together, worshipped and celebrated together.
So, when we walk in these green-grey arenas we might take a poet’s eye view, and sense that beautiful conjugation of symbolic markers that connect us to this often overlooked region.
I’ll conclude this with a poem I wrote that deals with those types of places and that intangible feeling of awe.
Just spring –
the last leaves
left from autumn’s
into pig iron grounds.
Greywacke, Fireclay, Ironstone
sit turbid at Netherton Spa
where dog walkers and rambling clubs
and pinfold teens and locked in pensioners
sense the spectral gravity beneath feet.
It seems to whine at the flytipped waste. It
takes it into itself. And the buds from Bramble,
Damson, wipe rheum from eyes between quickflash
of bluebell, snowdrop. Rheum drips in Dalton caverns
as in weeping elms and human pores:
this land leaves them colloidal. We suspend.
If you want to know more about these ideas I recommend the following:
- For more on the region’s geological significance, visit the Black Country Geological Society
- To find out more about how we establish a sense of place and how place affects our sense of self, take a look at the exciting field of Environmental Psychology
- For exploring how the literature of the region investigates its spirit of place, why not read through the excellent work on Writing the Black Country
Don’t forget to check out the Black Country Living Museum History at Home series of history learning materials for primary school children!