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Graham MortMyson Midas
the golden touch: technology, poetry and the small gods of chaos

Graham Mort

Writers on writing    

Myson Midas
Writers who inspire me


An Introduction

I was born in the mid-1950’s in industrial Lancashire, the north-west of England, the cradle of the world’s first industrial revolution. Brought up on the edge of a cotton-spinning town, I was caught between two cultures, two histories: behind us the smoke-blackened brick of houses and mills, ahead the half-ruined countryside that the town was slowly colonising. I spent my childhood birdwatching, playing cricket in a farmer’s abandoned field, damming the local river and collecting strange stones that were really the glassy slag from industrial furnaces. At night I still dream of that polluted childhood river, that it might one day run clear.

Both my parents had been forced to leave school for work at the age of 14, but they encouraged their children to study for a University education. We had few books in the house, certainly only one poetry book – Palgrave’s Golden Treasury – but we had a local library, which I visited twice a week from an early age. Then my older brother returned home with boxes of books from his university English Literature course and I began to read in earnest. I started to write poems at about the same time. I went to university to study English for myself, but ran away after one stifling term, a fish out of its element. I worked for a year, went back to university, graduated, then worked at a variety of jobs – postman, gardener, mill labourer, psychiatric nurse, teacher – before becoming a freelance writer. For eighteen years I worked in a variety of settings, running writing workshops and collaborating with a range of other artists. Now I work at Lancaster University as the director of postgraduate studies in Creative Writing; it seems an odd reconciliation with academe!

When I look back at myself beginning to write, I look back at another person. My first poems were an attempt to escape my industrial roots, to make my way into the countryside that lay so tantalisingly close. The sense of spoliation and post-industrial ruin I grew up with, the urge to escape its exploitation, were very strong. From my bedroom window I could see a horizon of moorland, dusty green under sunshine and plum blue at dusk. That was where I wanted to be. I now live in rural North Yorkshire, close to the vision I had then of the natural world. All utopias become complicated or false and I realise now that the rural landscape is just as much the product of human activity as a slagheap or factory. Machines defined my roots: my grandfather was a mule spinner, my father repaired pianos – a kind of musical machine - my mother was a nurse attending to the complicated workings of the human body.

Machines held generations of my family in mills, workshops and mines. To the Romantic imagination, they can seem alien, without feeling or volition. Or they can be seen as inspirational expressions of the human imagination, exploiting and adding to the power of nature. Poems, too, have working parts, an integral mechanism of a kind. And the human spirit has been seen as a ghost in the machine of the body, just as gods are ghosts in the mechanics of the Universe. The poem I’m presenting here brings together some of those thoughts and feelings about how we co-exist with things – and my own fascination and tenuous reconciliation with machinery.