Collections Assistant Ruth Burton writes about her experience working on the Simon Armitage Archive.
What do we need to find our way? A map? A guidebook? poetry? Poems might not be the first things you put in your rucksack before you head out to the hills, but they can provide new and sometimes startling perspectives on the landscape.
As part of the Simon Armitage archive, Special Collections holds physical and digital material relating to Walking Home: Armitage’s account of his 2010 Pennine Way walk. This includes his journey notebook, prose and poetry drafts; guidebooks; maps; proofs and over 200 photographs.
These materials together show how complex our relationship with landscape is. Ordnance Survey maps identify the Pennine Way as geographical terrain, while guidebooks show the route as a repository of history. These perspectives on landscape are combined in Armitage’s writing with other elements, personal and public, real and imagined. His Pennine Way journey notebook shows the different ways in which landscape can be approached through prose and through poetry: how writing both shapes, and is shaped by, our surroundings.
In Walking Home, Armitage writes that it is ‘in some ways, more essential to know where you’ve been than where you’re heading’, a comment that is relevant to both the historic and the literary past. Embedded in the Pennine Way are some pertinent historical lessons: the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall for example, ‘in the end a shrine to failure […] and as much a statement of insecurity as one of power.’
Writing, too, benefits from looking back. The Walking Home materials include initial book proposals which show how physical and logistical challenges shaped the project. More broadly, Armitage repeatedly looks back to a poetic past. Invoking literary tradition from Homer’s Odyssey and the journey of Gawain and the Green Knight, to the more specifically Pennine writing of Ted Hughes or W.H. Auden, he shows how poetry works to locate the reader, if not always to calm them. That it can help us to take our bearings, and find our way.
An online resource including digital mapping of the Simon Armitage Walking Home materials will be available on the Special Collections website from October 2017.