Mapping the path to safety

To begin our Where We Find Ourselves blog tour, Arachne Press Director, Cherry Potts shares her thoughts on the theme of ‘Maps and Mapping’:

Maps are objects of pleasure and anticipation for me, promises of holidays and beautiful in their own right, but they used to be safety blankets – I went through a long period of agoraphobia and the only way I could take a ‘stroll’ in the countryside (or anywhere else, really) was if I knew exactly where I was going, what obstacles were along the way and how long it would take – getting lost was something I literally had nightmares about. I’m better at it now, but it’s always me with the map in my pocket, if no longer clutched in an anxious grip.

So when Laila Sumpton suggested ‘Maps and Mapping’ as the focus for our global majority anthology, Where We Find Ourselves, I said yes almost by reflex. As we settled into thinking about why, exactly, we thought this a good idea, there was a lot to cover. Arachne has a history with what is apparently called Psychogeography – not planned, but one of our books is on the reading list at a university, so I’m told – these were geographically rooted (routed?) books of stories set in London, and along the east London Overground. I like that sort of thing. But this was different. We didn’t want to over-dictate what our authors wrote about, and wanted to see what would come up. We were hoping  for stories of home, belonging, leaving, journeys, identity, borders, invasion, exile … not of a particular place, but any place that the author or poet felt strongly about. And we got them, especially the search for places of safety – and we got a story about getting lost on a country walk, so that was my personal nightmare ticked off too.

Somehow this map idea morphed into an almost series. Not quite enough of one to say book one of… (although if pushed I will!) but four (so far) conceptually linked books.

Next up, in November, is What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective, an anthology of  poems and stories from Deaf, deaf and Hard of Hearing writers.

About twelve years ago I studied Neurolinguistic Programming (one of the things that helped overcome my agoraphobia). One of the basic tenets of NLP is that people have a linguistic preference that reveals how they experience the world, showing itself in use of words to do with one specific sense. Most people are visual or kinaesthetic (touch, motion, emotion), far fewer auditory, etc; although the transmit preference may not be the same as the receive preference. I spent some time wondering if I dare stick my hand up and say what about people who don’t have access to all those things? I never did, I found the large group intimidating, but I spent a lot of time thinking about it. When I started learning BSL, my doubts were confirmed, and confounded as well. So when I was discussing the title of a book with movement as its theme (very loose connection to maps!) with editors Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone, I was on about the language of movement or the movement of language, and Sophie entirely disagreed and said that BSL is a language of sight. In my kinaesthetically orientated way I had been thinking about transmitting communication and Sophie was thinking about receiving it. Which is how we ended up with the title What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective.

Alongside these two anthologies I had been talking to Ness Owen and Sian Northey about a bilingual Welsh-English poetry anthology for March next year. Sian came up with the brilliant idea of poems about/inspired by the iconic north-south route, the A470. Disclosure – my Welsh is limited to what can generally be found on a road sign, and saying hello and thank you, so an appropriate theme for me! Out came my maps – of course – and yes, I had driven bits of that road.

We won’t have to translate the title, Sian said. Wrong – because we’ve ended up with a subtitle, Poems for the Road/Cerrdi’r Ffordd.

Nothing screams maps more than a book about a road, and I spent a lot of time looking up places referenced in the poems, and getting to understand the topography of both road and poems. I can’t wait to drive it again, boring my wife silly as I point out places and say oh that’s in so-and-so’s poem. We have a fantasy about hiring a bus to do a book tour along the length of the road from Cardiff to Llandudno. The irony of this, in light of the next book, is not lost on me.

Before we get to the A470, we have another book – the Solstice Shorts Festival anthology, Words from the Brink out in December in time for the festival. Our initial call out had the loose concept of time is running out, and we wanted work that addressed the climate crisis.

At risk of sounding like a spare part from Dr Who, Solstice Shorts is always about time, and the festival has travelled around most of the UK, and even got to Portugal one year, so I thought we ought to be able to get a map theme into our overarching time concept. This year’s festival itself is still very much up in the air at the moment. Venues are difficult, and should we really be trying to have an in-real-life event at all?

Perhaps the link to maps is tenuous, except, actually, it isn’t. This book encompasses the whole Earth – viewed from space by acquisitive or curious aliens, in her personification as Gaia and in the microcosm of a single plant or butterfly. Our authors map their way through climate crisis to disaster, or renewal.

We are on the brink. A gnat’s wink in either direction can make the difference. Which direction do will we take?

You can follow the blog tour for Where We Find Ourselves until 30 October.

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