Public Record: Southend-on-Sea
It’s a somewhat unlikely leap, I suppose – from heart of the American industrial revolution and a central location for late-19th-century immigration (Pittsburgh), to the pleasure pier and seaside stroll of Victorian Essex – a few dozen miles and a few score stress levels from London’s late-industrial verve.
Yet I think there’s a certain beauty in the opportunity to make a Public Record-style site-specific poetry project for Southend-on-Sea - a project I’m excited to begin next week in residency at Metal, a truly marvelous arts space and artwork generator in that seaside town. The point of Public Record is to look at a place at a time of upheaval and historical tumult – a time when that town, neighborhood, or culture is being wracked with change in population, economy, mindset. Public Record looks not at how the landscape physically changed at these moments, but what spiritual archaeology can tell us about the ordinary people who lived there – and what their psychogeographic ghosts say in their hauntings.
Victorian and Edwardian Southend was ground zero for the latest invention of the industrial revolution: the “holiday,” as they say in England. We call it vacation. In Southend it’s more than either – it’s an economy and a geography; a cultural architecture and a beast of burden. While Pittsburgh was changing forever with sweat and steel, Southend was altering just as much, but with parasol and pier.
For most of May, I’ll be staying in Southend, researching a history of calamity, and using that work to create audio poems that we’ll digitally site around Metal’s Chalkwell Park environs. I’m going to make a proper effort to track the process here on ye olde Edwardian website, so maybe pop by every now and again, eh? And, of course, when it’s all wrapped up, the work will be available to the public for free – pints on me for any and all Yinzers who stop by.