Monday, 15 May 2017

Thoughts Towards a Chorography of my Thesis-in-Progress

Chorography
noun
historical

                The systematic description and mapping of particular regions.













Chorography
noun
historical

                The systematic description and mapping of particular regions.

This map, which I have spent around four hours this afternoon carefully plotting and scheming, is an ongoing visual representation — re-presentation — of work-in-progress for my PhD: a collection of original poetry, and accompanying critical exegesis, about my relationship to the identity and sense of belonging I feel in England’s North-East; specifically South Tyneside, where I was born and currently live.

I like to think of the map as a poem-in-its-own-right.

It can be looked at, thought about and discussed in myriad ways, but as it is uniquely mine (or, technically, Google’s), I thought I’d outline the main ways I am using it as a projection pad for, from and on to my PhD. I’ll be discussing some of these things before and around my reading of poems at an event this Thursday, 18th May, in Newcastle University’s English Department.

1.      Roads

The main driving routes on the map are identified thus: A184 (black); A19 (Navy Blue); and A1018 (British Racing Green). We live in the age of the motor car, at a time of peak carbon extraction and its bed partner: debt-fuelled, exothermic, endemic economic growth-at-all-costs. Political and economic motives and arguments aside, the car, and by extension the network of roads it precipitated, are intimately bound up in our – certainly my – understanding of this place (and, indeed, placelessness) and its intricate, palimpsestic histories and topographies. A clear example of this occurs along the A194 (marked sky blue on the map), or Leam Lane, which in part retains the Roman name ‘Wrekendyke’, or ‘Rekendike’ (a corruption/derivation which speaks of accretive changes in topology and nomenclature), marking it out as an important, strategic arterial road between two Roman settlements: Pons Aelius, Newcastle, and Arbeia, the fort at the Lawe Top, elevated at a militaristically advantageous position atop the riverside tip of South Shields.

Figure taken from Wearmouth and Jarrow: Northumbrian Monasteries in an Historic Landscape, eds Sam Turner, Sarah Semple and Alex Turner (p.156, if you're really that interested). Note the Wrekendyke (contemporary A194) running in a southwesterly direction from South Shields, south of Jarrow, onward to Wrekenton (Gateshead) to connect with the Great North Road (A1) between Durham and Newcastle, and ultimately London and Edinburgh. Consider where the frame stops and why...


2.      Walkways

The orange zig-zaggy line is the route of the Stringing Bedes walks, connecting the twinned monasteries (“One monastery in two places”, in Bede’s own words) associated with the Venerable man himself: St.Peter’s (Wearmouth) and St. Paul’s (Jarrow). Crucially, the route bisects the red heart symbol, identifying where my parents live in South Shields and where I spent most of my teenage years. Much of the north and western part of the route follows the course of the river Don, a much smaller tributary of the Tyne.

3.      Railways

The light green and yellow lines indicate the two Metro routes through South Tyneside and Sunderland. The northernmost line terminates at South Shields, but I have chosen to flag Tyne Dock station, as I use it more often. The southernmost line terminates on the south of the Wear at South Hylton, but I have flagged East Boldon station, as it is the station closest to where I currently live and the one I have utilised the most. There’s not much more I could say about railways, other than that they were invented in the North-East and they have been and continue to be a fundamental part of my life, whether in local, narrow-gauge format or as fully-blown connections to towns, cities and regions outside the nucleus of our fine-yet-flawed republic.

4.      Roundabouts

Possibly the most niche elements of the map, the six roundabouts shown are much more important than they first appear and absolutely haven’t been picked arbitrarily. Scanning west to east these are: the ‘Nickelodeon’ roundabout (I don’t know its official name, but it’s the awful, semi-subterranean roundabout beneath the Gateshead highway, not long after you come off the southbound Tyne bridge, forming the start of the Felling bypass. I named it so because there’s a building adjacent to it with ‘Nickelodeon’ written on its facade, and it sounds funny); Heworth roundabout (name-checked directly in one of my poems); White Mare Pool (apparently a stop-off point for the cavalcade of monks carrying Cuthbert’s coffin to Durham); Testo’s (again, name-checked in the aforementioned poem); Fullwell Quarry (adjacent to one of a trio of semi/defunct mills in the vicinity); and Lindisfarne (further north, where Jarrow spars off against Shields). As roundabouts by their very nature are circular and have at least two entry/exit points, and often – as their names attest – speak of nearby structures, historical events or bygone traditions, I find them to be useful points of rumination for a palimpsest poetics which gathers various sedimentary layers and attempts to recast them in medias res as complex, authentic poems-in-place.

The eagle-eyed viewer will note that there are at least a dozen other icons, which they may or may not be able to see properly on the copy attached here. In short: these are pubs, ice cream vendors, libraries, religious sites, animal encounters, ex-mines and sporting facilities which in some way have been or are important to my sense of this space as a holistic environment, where, to take lines from my own poem ‘Errata Slip for a Northern Town’, ‘You could spend your life here/you could be happy’.
                                                                                                     

Please come to the event if, like me, you are geeky enough to want to know more. At some point I will make this map more widely-available; and will almost certainly blog in more detail about its various sites, axes, directionality, crossovers and points of convergence at a later date as it is added to and further appended with poems as they develop over the remainder of my PhD.

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