ASLE-UKI Conference Orkney 2018: ‘A Place On the Edge’

img_4851I attended the 2018 Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (UK & Ireland)/ASLE-UKI Postgraduate Conference ‘A Place on the Edge’, between 5-7thSeptember 2018 to give a paper, ‘Give and Take: Coastal Change and Archaeology in Contemporary British Poetry’. The event was part of the Orkney International Science Festival 2018.  My paper was presented on the beach below Skara Brae, during an organised group walk to Skaill. I also met with Dr Scott Timpany from University of Islands and Highlands to visit the archaeological dig he is leading at the Bay of Ireland.

Attending the Postgraduate conference enabled me to meet and network with other PhD students and ECRs with research interests in environmental literature. A number of presentations focused on poetry, archipelagic theory, blue ecology, and/or the Anthropocene, and there was considerable discussion around shoreline environments and cross-disciplinary working – for example, Alec Finlay and Laura Watt’s work linking renewable energy and poetry – which was highly relevant to my own research. The conference provided a platform to share my research with a new and wider audience outside of the Midlands and a chance to build on my professional development as a researcher. My paper, ‘Give and Take: Coastal Change and Archaeology in Contemporary British Poetry’, included a reading and contextualisation of some of my PhD poems and took place on the beach during a field trip from Yesnaby to Skaill on Thursday 6th September. As such, the work was presented in a location that corresponded with the archaeological imagery in my poems. People seemed genuinely interested in my research project. This was the first paper I have given at a conference and I gained valuable feedback afterwards, which will help me to develop the project. The conference shared events with the Orkney Science Festival programme, exchanging dialogues across disciplinary lines. I joined archaeologists Dr Scott Timpany and Dr Michelle Farrell on a site visit to the Bay of Ireland, where rising tides and coastal processes have revealed 5,000-year-old tree roots. Present-day Orkney is virtually treeless, so the finds indicate the level of change over 7,000 years. Their work on Orkney’s submerged landscapes corresponds with my critical writing on archaeological imagery in poetry and my developing collection of poems for the PhD, offering an opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration.  I also took the opportunity to visit the exhibition of finds from Skara Brae on display in Stromness Museum, which will inform the poem sequence that I am writing, meet with publisher Duncan McLean who is leading a literary project promoting Orcadian writing, and travel to St Margaret’s Hope to see the Churchill barriers, which are a series of causeways constructed during WW2 to protect the Royal Navy’s anchorage at Scapa Flow. Orkney is a wonderful place to visit and worth the ‘bumpy’ flight from Glasgow airport. I hope that I can return there in the future.