Language Disembarked: The Coast and the Forest in Modern British Poetry

Amy Cutler

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

3773 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis examines the representation of coasts and forests in texts written by British poets from 1970 to the present, in both small press and mainstream publications. Close readings are presented in the context of changing late twentieth century understandings of the dynamics and social practices of littoral space and the politics of British woodland, drawing on contemporary work by specialist cultural geographers and by environmental historians. The theories which have come to dominate – such as the ‘tidalectics’ (Naylor, 1999) of the Atlantic imaginary, or the ‘project of legibility’ (Scott, 1998) for forests under state governance – are applied to select poems and poets, both well-known and marginal. The texts focus on issues of authoritarian and alternative communication, from Thomas A. Clark’s Twenty Four Sentences About the Forest (1982) to the broken transmissions of Caroline Bergvall’s Drift (2014). In Britain the assigning of concepts of language to these two sites in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is still a political issue as well as a major theme of new popular constructions of nature. This text investigates versions of authorship, authority, and definition through the modern handling of the historical and literary tropes of these two key cultural spaces. Poets referred to include Peter Larkin, Peter Riley, Anthony Barnett, Carol Watts, Bill Griffiths, Colin Simms, Ciaran Carson, Frances Presley, Giles Goodland, Alan Halsey, Wendy Mulford, Eric Mottram, Zoë Skoulding, and Richard Skelton.
The obsessive depiction of the plight of language in the two sites (from Colin Simm's creole shoreline texts, to Ciaran Carson’s depiction of the failed fable of Rumpelstiltskin in the forest, where absolute naming has no power) is a shadow narrative to the “wicked” language problems approached in modern environmental discourse. What dictums exist for the woodlands and the shorelines of the modern UK? And how do these interact with modern poetry’s interest in the re-coding of existing tropes, utterances, and histories? How have cultural geographers and poets since 1970 differently approached the 'language problem' of these two sites, and what can literary geographers learn from this?
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Cresswell, Timothy, Supervisor
  • Hawkins, Harriet, Supervisor
  • Hampson, Robert, Advisor
Award date1 Nov 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


  • coasts
  • coast
  • forest
  • forests
  • woods
  • woodlands
  • timber
  • trees
  • landscape
  • Cultural Geography
  • Cultural History
  • historical geography
  • Philosophy of Language
  • close reading
  • Poetry
  • Poetics
  • Twentieth Century
  • British Poetry
  • Contemporary British Writing
  • environmental studies
  • History of ideas
  • Maritime
  • Shorelines
  • Shores
  • Avant-Garde
  • Artist's book
  • Eco-criticism
  • Environmental Humanities
  • Ecocriticism
  • Environmental Literature
  • Place
  • Space

Cite this