PhD. ‘Mapping the edge : a practice-led exploration of the poetics of the northern coastline’

Terrace Enders, mural, Hessle Road. Simon Fitch


In this thesis I explore the idea of the (paper) map as a physical relic of a cultural process. I examine the structures and assumptions that underpin the construction of the map, and show how these are also present in the ontology and conventions of the poem. Both are essentially spatial; both rely on conventions of symbolic representation; both are selective, and represent an essentially subjective world-view.

In Romantic and post-Romantic poetry, the northern coastline is commonly a physical, symbolic and metaphysical border:

□ physical – it is a profoundly unstable space, exposed to and constantly made and remade by vast weather and tidal systems that begin thousands of miles away

□ symbolic – this instability both forces and allows metaphorical self-projection, a human process that acts to stabilise this zone so that we can locate ourselves in it

□ metaphysical – the coastline is a site of the dichotomy of culture/nature, human/non-human, inhabited/uninhabitable; a furthest point at which we glimpse the chaos beyond.

In this thesis I reinterpret the coastline as a hybrid and embodied space, in which our ordinary human activity of (re)orientation – phenomenological, cultural, linguistic, emotional – is made all the more visible by its actual instability. In the active, creative embodiment of this space, we both create points of reference by which to anchor ourselves, and map ourselves onto/into it.

This is a deeply contextualised enquiry. The thinking through of these ideas, and the poetry collection Summer Ferry, grew out of immersion in sites around the North Sea and North Atlantic coastlines. Summer Ferry is a rhetorical play with these themes, describing and enacting the actual process of mapping as embodiment and reflexive response.


Lesley Harrison

FACE School of English

5th September 2018


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