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When we write about places – just looking

by Jeff Phelps on October 4th, 2016

These beautifully ploughed fields on the way to Wolverhampton have always caught my eye, but I’d normally been driving past and hadn’t been able to look at them properly. So an assignment to write a poem in the voice of a ‘place’ was a perfect excuse to take a closer look. What sort of a voice does a ploughed field have? Well, I know fields don’t actually talk and don’t communicate in any way we easily understand. So the exercise did feel like (to quote) ‘a ventriloquist’s act’. Is the landscape male or female? Old or young? Angry or placid?  What does a field actually know? Does it have any sense of what it looks like? Isn’t it arrogance to assume what any non-living thing might think or say? Why would fields communicate in poetry anyway – and why with me?

I discovered that the Shropshire word for a rough, steep field is a cockshut. I felt very conspicuous standing at the side of the busy road as cars whizzed past. There was no footpath. I stumbled over the grass. I waited for the sun to come out. I listened and squinted at the ploughed furrows.

On the way back to where I’d parked I came across a woman with a flat tyre and helped her change it (for another flat one she had in her boot as it happens!) She asked me why I was loitering on the side of the A454. ‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,’ I said. I told her anyway. She explained she was a country lover and had been teaching horse riding all day. The fields, she said, meant money to most country people – crops and yields and money. The idea of just looking at them must have seemed pretty outlandish and extravagent.

I understand that. But at least it gave me an idea for the voice of those fields. I reckoned if they could talk they would be rough and old and full of history.

It sent me to the library looking for authentic Shropshire words such as an old field might use in its head. I found a fund of them: papping is milking time, cow skittle is cow dung, cop is the highest part of ploughed land (Wyle Cop in Shrewsbury, of course). Oh, and a rough, steep field is called a Cockshut – like the ones on the A454

Poetry is what some of us are lucky enough to do – using words with real English dirt on them; words like ochre and amber and cop and cow skittle. I hope I get to try them out in the poem.





  1. What an inspiring post, Jeff. I love that you stopped and made an enquiry into the way fields may talk. I hope you use those words in a poem and get to share it with us.

  2. I have commented on facebook why I empathise with this slant on ‘speaking from the land’ – I take this blog as an exciting intro towards a finished poem. How oppurtune to meet that lady – no frills country folk as they are and were even more so in the past.

    I love the smell of a freshly ploughed field – the birds waiting. Takes me back to my dog competing days and tracking with ‘mud laden boots’ across bumpy furrows.

    Ploughed field just resting – waiting patiently for seed.

    I have a friend who writes using local dialect for the downs in East Sussex – I look forward to reading some Shropshire words of old.


  3. Jeff Phelps permalink

    Thank you for you comment and support, Gulara. I’ve always found it quite hard to imagine/ hear voices from the landscape or inanimate objects but a poem has come out of this.

  4. Jeff Phelps permalink

    Thank you for your comment, Jan. I really appreciate that you’ve responded and that you empathise with what I wrote. I really enjoyed your slant on it and the poem you shared.

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