‘Spirits of Place’ is an anthology journeying into the minds, places and memories of twelve writers as they attempt to put into words the emotional and cultural residue implied by a location dear to them. It’s not merely the hard geography of a location but its evolution though folk history which is of interest here. This isn’t another book of psychogeography essays where the landscape is explored and meaning extrapolated from the usual tired rambles of London and Paris, ‘Spirits of Place’ puts a human face onto local mythology and shows that the devil (and assorted other spirits) is almost certainly in the detail as it’s often the little stories that provide the biggest connections to a place. In all cases careful research goes hand in hand with the writer’s emotions and experiences providing the reader with more than enough information to spark further investigation.
This project, derived from a day of lectures in Liverpool in 2016, has been carefully curated by John Reppion to include a refreshing diversity of writers with the essays contained covering a lot of ground both physically and metaphorically. From Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir’s background in Icelandic Elf-lore and how its interfering with modern road and building construction, to Vajra Chandrasekera’s personal account how Sri Lankan spirit folklore evolves to retain its relevance in a rapidly changing socio-political landscape, to Maria J. Perez Cuervo’s piece on the moving of King Philip II of Spain’s Spanish Capital to a mountain local myth says contains the caves that the Devil lived in after his fall from Heaven, the span is ambitiously global telling very human tales which derive (as all things do) from the land.
Of the writers included, the three most known to me, Warren Ellis, Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore don’t disappoint in their submissions. In ‘A Compendium of Tides’ Ellis paints a vivid picture of strange frequencies plucked throughout time from the aether of the Thames Estuary, with the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery and its dangerously deteriorating stockpile of wartime bombs hanging, like a Damoclean sword, threatening turn the area and its history back into atoms and background static. Sinclair leaves behind his beloved London to travel to Palermo, weaving an almost a film noir narrative about his visit to the Capuchin Catacombs, with the journey full of stories that lead him on a deep meditation into its place in the Sicilian psyche. And, having been fortunate enough to see Moore perform the piece his essay ‘Coal Dreams’ was based on at the Sage in Gateshead back in 2010, it’s great to see it finally documented as his contribution. First leading the reader through his own previous personal involvement with Newcastle and the mental and physical journey it has taken to get him there, then setting about re-imagining Newcastle and its environment by reframing its history using it’s pre Christian backdrop in an enthralling riposte to J B Priestley’s damning of Newcastle in ‘English Journey’, invoking Antenociticus (a Roman flavoured variant of Caernunnos) in his temple in Wallsend by way of brimstone-fired visions of the painter John Martin, Mary Shelly and Bovril.
None of the essays in this tight packed anthology overstay their welcome and the high level of writing prowess across the book makes it a joy to read, even if you manage to find an essay topic which doesn’t immediately float your boat. The general tone and connection to the theme does remain even throughout which goes to show that no matter where you are, if you concentrate on any place long enough, you can start to see the ghosts infused within the brickwork and the angels in the architecture. This book fits wonderfully into the growing movement towards the re-enchantment of location and will be of great interest to those fostering a deeper connection with the landscape.
Review by S.: of the Psychogeographical Commission.