September 8, 2016
Welcome to Exmoor National Park: have a beer, take a walk, write a poem, be published in a book
by Chad Felix
Southwest England’s Exmoor National Park has long been a site of poetic speculation. The nineteenth-century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously walked and pondered there (he has the footpath to prove it), as did William Wordsworth, whose wanderings, like Coleridge’s, led to the poems that helped to bring about the Romantic Age (which was pretty awesome). It’s no surprise, really; the landscape is stunning, no doubt an inspiration to anyone who visits. Also, there are pubs.
It was with this history in mind that poet Chris Jelley recently launched a new public poetry project. As The Guardian’s Alison Flood reports, over the last three years, the poet, with support from the Lynmouth Pavilion Project, has been placing boxes throughout the landscape, with notes of encouragement to contribute to the pages therein: “Draw, read or write inside, / And leave for the next to scribe and confide.”
The first batch of six boxes was left in the Valley of Rocks; the second set could be found at Tarr Steps. And the latest boxes have been placed throughout the village of Dunster.
Passersby have listened to the boxes’ invitation, and the project, since its inception, has generated more than 6,000 poems, from limericks (vulgar, as they should be) to pro- and anti-Brexit protestations (also vulgar, probably), to sketches of the surrounding landscape (not vulgar, pretty), to marriage proposals (aww). Now the contributions will be made available in a book. The works selected for inclusion will be photographed and presented as such in the publication, due in October from Fly Catcher Press. The originals will remain on display at Lynmouth Pavilion.
In response to the success of his project, Jelley told The Guardian:
We weren’t expecting that amount of response from strangers. But whenever I’d go to check the tins, I’d find people reading the poems in them, too, not just writing… We have a perception that everyone has got to have a gadget in their hand, but we are a nation of book lovers; we love the simplicity of a book and a pencil, and when we are totally unobserved, we are happy to write something.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.