Adrian Slatcher writes poetry, fiction and criticism, and lives in Manchester.
“Over and Back” is one of the older poems in “Playing Solitaire for Money”, written in 2005. I sometimes baulk at the idea of writing nature poetry. I have always lived in cities or on the edge of urban landscapes; even if my childhood was spent in that strange “edgeland” (to use Micheal Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley’s term) of the Midlands “Green Belt.” My landscape was always a man-made one, however full of wild flowers and stretches of water it might be.
The poem is as much about memory as anything; about returning to a place from your childhood and both knowing and not knowing it. How important is it to know this landscape? I’m not sure – anymore than finding daffodils in the Lake District improves your understanding of Wordsworth’s poem – but at the same time I don’t think it necessarily detracts. It seems that my childhood landscape, though changed, is remarkable similar to what my memory of it was. I’ve walked this way regularly over the years, but the images I’d dredged up in the poem, of foxgloves and bulrushes, made me walk it earlier this year with the poem in mind. So these photographs are an illustration of the poem, but taken in the very place, albeit thirty years or more after from the memories, where the poem is set. The land at the back of my parents house has been wildscaped if you like, as the last of the industrial products (coal, shale and clay) have been removed. It is now a protected wilderness – so a governed wild-ness if you like. The poem, and a reading of the poem, are below.
Over and Back
Apples, blueberries, chickweed,
dogweed, elderflower, foxglove…
I once knew their names,
but all of that is gone.
I was sitting on a parched bank,
wondering where the grasses went –
and looking to the sky
in vain for the birds.
The bulrushes’ rich sponge heights
with dandelion floss, telling time
and a yellow-black ladybird
flapping wildly on a leaf –
But now there’s a brick path
where once was a stream,
and the landscape itself
is levelled and felled.
Over there I’d have made a shelter,
of branches and reeds –
whilst back then there were
birds in the trees.
Over and back, over and back,
the memories black,
we cannot get over,
and cannot go back.
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