‘Open Fell Poetics’ A year in upland farming: investigating the Lake District as a cultural landscape through practice based poetics

Fraser, Harriet (2017) ‘Open Fell Poetics’ A year in upland farming: investigating the Lake District as a cultural landscape through practice based poetics. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3289837


This thesis is the result of two years spent alongside upland farmers in Cumbria and the development of a poetic practice arising from experimentation with form. It presents an almanac of the farming year together with a collection of poems inspired by my time with the farmers in the yards and on the fells.

My practical research has been rooted in farming tasks and conversations with present-day farmers, and in walks and conversations with others who manage the landscape in the Lake District National Park. This complements literary research that provides a contextual overview of history of literature relating to the Lake District; both are set within the context of the Lake District as a cultural landscape, as defined by UNESCO.

I examine the celebration of the region in popular writing, with an emphasis on poetry, and consider the under-acknowledgement of hill farming in its shaping of the landscape’s appearance, and a tendency in literature to idealise this tough way of life. The English Lake District has, since the eighteenth century, been noted for its beauty, and attracts millions of tourists each year, many of whom are familiar with the work of celebrated writers and poets, perhaps most notably William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge and Alfred Wainwright. My thesis argues that existing popular literature often misrepresents upland farming, and I use creative writing to offer insights into farming practices that are often unseen, or overlooked, by the casual visitor to the Lake District as much as they are by literary commentators.

My practice is grounded in the act of making notes while in the field; my notes form the raw material for almanac entries and poems. Some poems have been developed, in form and presentation, following the traditions of Concrete Poetry and Open Field Poetics, and take these approaches further through the physical combination of poems and farming: I use traditional farming materials as canvases for words so that the poem’s expression incorporates land, weather, livestock and people. The poems begin on farms, are developed on paper, and then pass through the hands of farmers and return to farms where they find their final expression. I have called this practice ‘Open Fell Poetics’.

The use of prose as well as poetry is an independent presentation of two distinct forms. The prosaic form of the almanac allows for the integration of farmers’ voices and reveals a collaboration between myself and them. The poetry highlights specific moments and allows for experimentation with form and space. The release of poems onto material that moves and changes allows the poems to embody the immutable topography of Cumbria and the unpredictability of upland farming: farmers must respond to the limitations of a fixed landscape while adapting to changing weather, policies and market forces. This challenges the view that any one piece of writing, or any single form of text, can definitively represent a culture as changeable and complex as upland hill farming, and invites a consideration from the reader or viewer of the role of literature in both defining and reflecting a cultural landscape.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Additional Information: The author thank the University of Glasgow for awarding the Cairncross McRae Scholarship, which enabled this MPhil.
Keywords: creative writing, poetry, poetics, cultural landscape, lake district literature, hill farming, almanac, world heritage site status, cumbria, english lake district, open field poetics, practice based poetics, environment.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social & Environmental Sustainability
Precurrent Departments > School of Interdisciplinary Studies
Supervisor's Name: Borthwick, Dr. David
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Ms Harriet Fraser
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8449
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 03 Nov 2017 15:20
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2023 13:02
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/8449

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