For the past year, between writing poetry, I’ve been busy with another project – and it’s launching this week. The Orphaned Spaces is a rumination on life and loss through the prism of liminal spaces – derelict land, brownfield sites, edgelands – caught between moments of dilapidation and regeneration.
I’ve provided the words and a few photos for it, and Ella Johnston has created some beautiful illustrations, still-life nature photography, and pressed flower images. The project takes the form a paperback book (pictured in this post), but also a highly limited edition, made to order box set, with hand-stitched booklets, archival prints, wildflower seeds, a reliquary and more. It’s quite a thing!
The project was only meant to be a brief interlude for us here at Dunlin Press, but it escalated. We spent a year visiting places that had fallen into dereliction – that had been ‘left behind’ – collecting images and information, and working out what these spaces mean to us.
And once you see the sites, they seem to appear everywhere. Suddenly, the perimeter of a car park or building site, a crumbling factory or depot, a canal wall, a railway siding, all become places of interest.
We also talked to conservationists about the rare flora and fauna that thrives in these places, and about how best to manage their precarious ecologies. Ruderal species, pioneer plants, nature’s order of succession… unfolding in front of us, changing as the seasons turned…
The words in the book take the form of a diary that runs over the course of a year. They were made from notes made in my journal at the time, in the field, as we explored or passed these ‘orphaned spaces’. They’re about the natural world, and about place, of course. But really they’re about time, and about how we cope with loss and with change. They’re about what we permit ourselves to ‘see’, and what we turn away from.
Life springs from these deserted places. It persists, even when it seems as if it can’t.
Fittingly, the magenta cover image of The Orphaned Spaces is of Rosebay willowherb – ‘fireweed’, exploding out of a black background. It is, of course, the plant that sprang from the craters of a bombed-out London after the Second World War to become a symbol of the city – and which has spread, like so many other species, via the conduits of rail and road, naturalising itself in areas of what’s sometimes called ‘waste ground’, all across the land.
There’s more about the book and box set over at the Dunlin Press shop.