Sunday, August 19, 2007
There is a new journal with a landscape theme, Archipelago (not to be confused with the on-line journal Archipelago which has just published its final issue). I sent off for the first one and was a bit disappointed with first impressions – the contributors list looks a bit Oxbridge, the design and cover are rather uninspired, the editor quotes Simone Weill on the renewal of our devastated ‘earthly globe’ and then talks about casting his net to land a ‘rich haul of contributions.’ However, there is some excellent writing within, linked by an elemental concern for rocks, mountains, wood, rivers and shorelines. An interest in the periphery and those parts of the ‘archipelago’ close to the sea is evident in selections of poetry from Ireland, Wales and Scotland. The last poem in the journal envisages London under water.
For me the most enjoyable piece was an extract from the forthcoming Robert Macfarlane book on wild places. On this evidence the new book looks like being as entertaining as the last one, Mountains of the Mind, where even the most familiar episodes in the cultural history of landscape felt fresh and well told. When he is describing his own climbing or (in this extract) swimming, his engaging and poetic prose disarms any irritation you might feel at reading about feats of physical bravery. Here, for example, having discussed the poet-monks of Celtic Christianity, he moves on to describe his impressions of the landscape from a boat moored a hundred metres off shore. ‘I dived in. Blue shock. The cold running into me like a dye. I surfaced, gasping and began to swim towards the cliffs at the eastern side of the bay. I could feel the insistent draw of the current, sliding me out to the west, back towards Enlli... A large lustrous wave surged me between two rocks, and as I put a hand out to stop myself from being barged against them, I felt barnacles tear at my fingers...’ You don’t get to see Simon Schama diving into the sea like this... surely we’ll be seeing Robert Macfarlane presenting a TV series on Britain’s wild places before long?