This is my first post for the Human Seasons. It’s Star Wars Day – May the Fourth be with you, reader! and also with this cheery steeplejack who called down to me from a Peak District rooftop in Hathersage. He’s working on the structures we live in, as people always have in this weather-worn place.
I’m now a working poet but for eighteen years I was an archaeologist, working across the north of England and occasionally in Greece or Turkey. It’s not unusual to find poetry and archaeology mixed up in people’s lives like this. After all, both are a pursuit of meaning. We ask the same questions, poets and archaeologists. Here’s an object, here’s a behaviour pattern, here’s a gesture made between two humans. What’s beneath it? What can we learn from it? How does it help?
In poetry, we try to get behind the screens of ego and work out what we’re really trying to say. It’s taken me twenty years to realise one of my own self-deceptions. It seemed to me at the time that I fell accidentally into my specialism – the archaeology of industry, and particularly of the lead- and coal-mining industries.
It was no accident. I am from Sheffield – land of drystone walls and things that thrive in unlikely places – and I left my home town in 1986, at a time when its industry and identity had been almost dismantled by political expediency. I didn’t come back for almost thirty years; it seemed like failure to come back.
I’m back. I have not failed. And Sheffield, goddammit – you’re beautiful. You know how to use public art – in your architecture; in the public poems by Andrew Motion and Ian McMillan and Jarvis Cocker; in the defiantly glamorous curves of steel that greet the train traveller at the station. We may not have our foundries any longer, but we are made of steel.
This is archaeology. This is material culture saying something about place, identity and survival. Hello Sheffield. It’s good to be home.