For most people, the word ‘Psychogeography‘ conjures up images of Ian Sinclair and Will Self making pedestrian journeys through the less salubrious parts of London. For many, ‘Psychogeography’ is synonymous with these authors and a very urban outlook. I would like to contend that place is central to many people, and is just as important to those of us who reside in the countryside as it is to our urban cousins.
According to the Wikipedia article linked above, Psychogeography is defined as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals”.
I live just outside Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire, a village that will forever be known as the birthplace of poet laureate Ted Hughes. Hughes, more than any other poet I can think of, was shaped and moulded as a person and as a poet by his environment. Growing up in Mytholmroyd, Hughes could see the looming inland cliff face of Scout Rock from his bedroom. In 1964, the BBC published a book called “Writers on Themselves” to which Hughes contributed a piece called “The Rock” in which he makes clear just how important Scout Rock had been to his early poetic awakenings:
“THE MOST impressive early companion of my childhood was a dark cliff, or what looked like a dark cliff, to the South, a wall of rock and steep woods half way up to the sky, just cleared by the winter sun. This was the memento mundi over my birth: my spiritual midwife at the time and my godfather ever since – or one of my godfathers. From my first day, it watched. If it couldn’t see me direct, a towering gloom over my pram, it watched me through a species of periscope: that is, by infiltrating the very light of my room with it’s particular shadow. From my home near the bottom of the south-facing slope of the valley, that cliff was both the curtain and backdrop to existence. All that happened, happened against it or under it’s supervision…”
Ted Hughes “The Rock”.Writers on themselves BBC 1964 P86
I wanted to mention Scout Rock because Hughes’s experience of it seems to me to be a classic Psychogeographical reaction – and Calderdale has many places that, like Scout Rock, have a strong influence over the people who live here. From Stoodley Pike to Top Withins, these hills are infused with a powerful symbolism and energy that are unique to this wild west of Yorkshire. It’s not the chocolate box beauty of the national parks to be found to the South and North. There is something almost sinister about the blackened millstone and brooding sky to be found up on the tops, but this is easily offset by the beauty of the steep sided cloughs with their chattering, fast flowing streams. For me it is very easy to see why Hughes kept returning here, and I count myself lucky that I get to live by the river, in the valley alive with meaning.