DEN Project

of Mining and Poetry

Miles Travelled = 791
Museums Visited = 16
Mood = self-conscious

When I tell you that I’m walking around a museum situated in the house of a north Nottinghamshire miner, and that I’m being escorted by David Amos, the MuBu mining scholar, you might think that today’s visit has a single, straightforward focus. But the museum tells the story of the miner’s son, a frail lad who never worked down the pit and didn’t fit the pattern expected of a boy in a small mining town.

His name was D H Lawrence.

We start in the D H Lawrence Birthplace Museum in Eastwood. Our next stop will be Breach House, another Lawrence family home. After that we will visit a mining/Lawrence exhibition at the Durban House Heritage Centre. And finally we’ll have a chance to see the mine headgear at the site where Lawrence senior worked.

D H Lawrence bedroom Eastwood

It seems that, in the heritage industry, D H Lawrence and the coal mining town where he grew up have found an accommodation they never enjoyed in life. In Lawrence’s own words: “If I think of my childhood, it is always as if there was a sort of inner darkness, like the gloss of coal, in which we moved and had our real being.”

Perhaps it was the very discomfort of not fitting in as a child that drove him to write so creatively and bravely through the years of his short life. After all, according to Earnest Hemingway, the best early training for a writer is an unhappy childhood.

Strangely, I find myself connected to both aspects of today’s tour: writing and mining.  

You might expect that as a novelist, I’d be particularly interested in Lawrence’s long fiction. But it is his poems that really attract me. My two favourites are  “Snake” and “Red Geranium and Godly Mignonette”. These poems are beautiful on the page, but their full beauty is revealed only when they are spoken out loud. I have brought copies of each in my bag and I want to hear them spoken in Lawrence’s childhood home.  I want to voice them so that I can feel the words forming in my mouth.

But I am not on my own. David is with me. Also Alex and Sam, the MuBu project coordinators. And the museum tour guide. I’m still trying to summon the courage to ask if they wouldn’t mind pausing for a moment, when two elderly ladies join our the party. How self-important it would now seem if I were to make my request.

Ah-hem, could I have your attention please?”

In the poem “Snake” Lawrence speaks of his reaction on seeing the venomous reptile drinking at a water trough in Sicily. A real man would have killed it, he thought.

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

Perhaps a real writer would stop the tour and announce that he was going to recite, whether other people liked it or not. But when the moment comes,  I find I can’t do it. The text stays in my bag and the poems remain, for the time being, unvoiced.

Miner's lamp, flask and snap tin

And so to the other thread of our tour – the lives, and in some cases the deaths, of those who were brave enough to work hacking coal out from deep under the surface of the earth.  

That will be the subject of the next blog.

But for now, and regretfully, because I was too timid to read it out in Lawrence’s house, please forgive me for including below my very poor reading of Red Geranium and Godly Mignonette.

Red Geranium

 

Comments

  •  

    Lindsay Crutchley March 13th, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    This post has made me want to visit the museum. Thanks.
    … and I bet those old ladies would have loved your reading… may have thought you were a bit eccentric, but there’s nowt wrong wi’ that!

    “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
    — Mark Twain

    I do love a bit of Mark Twain now and again…

  •  

    Rod Duncan March 13th, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    A good quote Lindsay. But how about this one by Twain – which must surely suggest I made the correct choice:

    “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
    :)

  •  

    Lindsay Crutchley March 13th, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    :D

  •  

    Mubu Project: a Writer's Journey March 14th, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    [...] completed a hugely enjoyable tour of heritage sites around Eastwood, in Nottinghamshire, we headed off for a pub lunch. Before the food arrived I had a brief [...]

 

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