Paul Hyland
Subterranean Poetry

Background

This residency was established to explore and commemorate the mining tradition, its impact upon the landscape and people, and reflect upon its current state in the East Cleveland area. Activities included a research visit into Boulby Potash Mine (a working mine), a visit to the Leonard Mining Museum at Skinningrove (also an old mine shaft), and involved poetry workshops for employees and retired members of the mining industries, schoolchildren, youth groups and local creative writing groups.


Report 

I went underground for a few days in June, August and October 1999. At first I was given a house at Carim How, a short walk from a cliff-top with a view of the highest headland in England. Cleveland is 'cliff-land'. At my back was a steelworks and, in front, a steep valley in which a rusty beck ran to the sea. Down there, in the mid-nineteenth century, the fishing village of Skinningrove grew to be an ironstone town, now home to the Tom Leonard Mining Museum.

I felt an instant, unexpected connection with this place. I've written about the stone and clay pits and mines, the ancient alum industry and the current oil field near my Dorset home, but here in East Cleveland the whole landscape is undermined. The muse wears a hard hat. I wore one for a reading in the Tom Leonard mine. I held workshops and surgeries in Loftus and Saltburn. I worked with schoolchildren and interviewed old miners and steelworkers. I dug through strata of folktale and mythology. With groups of writers and visual artists I went round Skinningrove Steelworks and down Boulby Potash Mine, three-quarters of a mile deep and five miles out under the North Sea.

Dorset men came here in 1603 to develop the alum industry. London urine was shipped north for it. The rest is alchemy. From Staithes to Seaton Carew I found my own connections and wrote more, and better, than on any residency I've had; my perspective gave Cleveland artists and writers a new take on their territory and catalysed fresh work.

Val Magee of Village Arts filmed writers reading poems on location. Saltburn artists made work which both fed off and nourished our words. Cleveland Arts' Buzzwords co-ordinator Bob Beagrie (who organised the whole placement and wrote poems for it) MC'd a party/reading/exhibition which ended my residency but was, I hope, just a taster for a multi-site exhibition in the new year, a Subterranean Poetry publication, further collaboration within the creative community and a still deeper sense of identity. I've surfaced now, but it's a world I won't forget.

Young Poets Network