Place, Maps, Language

A map is its own language. Unspoken, it still manages to describe place, location and even scenery, often with an astonishing simplicity, but sometimes with a subtlety that can be quite breathtaking. A bright red line that illustrates a tarmac road, or a thin blue line meandering through a green background may describe a stream percolating through peaty watermeadows. Interestingly, a map with its two dimensional syntax has a sophistication that is denied writing along one dimensional lines. It is here that poetry often challenges the dimensional boundary with precise placement of words on a page. Just as I might spend considerable time appreciating the structure of a poem, so I have spent hours in front of a hostel fire with a pot of tea reading a map to discover its secrets.

1:25000 attempts to capture the mystery of map reading. It starts with a relatively ordinary line structure, with the usual vocabulary and punctuation, but as it explores the landscape it drifts away from a simple syntax towards a looser style that relies on placement, symmetry and wonderment.


Only slightly lost, we find the paper
Folded in an inside pocket. We are there,
Somewhere, one to twenty-five thousand,
A mote of mobile imagining.

And a trickle of blue splits the landscape.

In the orange skein
We untangle a rolling surface pressed
Flat on the map, but filled with pebble,
Outcrop, blades of grass.
On close scrutiny of the stylised code
A shrubby plantation catches the eye
With its little lollipop trees
Springing from the rough green hummocks
Of a rough green pasture.

And a trickle of blue splits the paper.

On the ground
We find no deep black names.
No red carpets are laid on our tracks.
Hidden from the ink are the implicit sheep,
The thin, abstracted cry of a curlew’s mate,
The wide airy volume of the space
The loneliness
The unprintable emptiness of being there

© Martin Porter 1999

Shell is a piece written to explore the difference between the mechanisms (the map, the googling and the met report) we use to describe the world and the world itself. In some ways it shares the same properties as 1:25000, with a growing disorder in the punctuation, but in “shell” the contrast between the virtual and the visceral is further examined by the use of upper case characters. The only “reality” in the poem is the Single Fragment of Shell, all the other references are just exactly that, someone elses experiences referred forward.


her father unfolded the concertina
map, laying it in dunes on the table
she googled it, name in box, click
of a button, eyes on the screen
and zoomed in to see

every grain of sand,
a hermit crab caught, mid-

the met report told them it was
comfortable yesterday
comfortable today and
it will be…

i gently rest my finger on the sand,
raise it to my face, observe
the Single Fragment of Shell adhered
and rub it, abrasively, across my open palm

© Martin Porter 2010

As an aside, but nevertheless important to note, is the play with the written language in 1:25000. I do not know how you read that particular string of characters, but the one to twenty-five thousand in the body of the poem probably reads the same, although the string of characters is very different.

1:25000 won 2nd prize in the Jersey Evening Post writing competition 1999
shell was published in the 52/250 blog  18 March 2011

This entry was posted in 1:25000, Language and Place, shell, St Francis and the Birds. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Place, Maps, Language

  1. ganymeder says:

    The mix of texture and color in these pieces give them so many layers. It's fun to explore and see the similarities and differences. I enjoyed these.

  2. Martin says:

    It surprised me how much these two pieces had in common considering the time span between the two. Thanks for the comment and please come again.

  3. Linda says:

    Both of these are lovely, and like Gany, I appreciate the contrasts and differences. The first so powerful to me, the context of being so small in the larger scheme. I feel the same about the large datasets I analyze in my day job, thousands upon thousands of data points (read: people) who in the end condense to a single median or mean or coefficient. A mote of mobile imagining… a line I wish I had written. Peace…

  4. i zoomed in on the map- loved the scars and the holes and the caves. i definitely felt like i had landed some place outside my own scale. thanks for the experience! nice to read you!sherry o'keefe

  5. Martin says:

    The scale is a fascinating thing, its surprising how much was just hinted at in the paper maps and how we can zoom in to see the implied detail. The two poems show how facilities such as Google have changed our way of looking at the world. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  6. Emma says:

    Hi Martin,I found your blog through the Language>Place Carnival, and will be participating in the 8th issue this month. I would love to talk to you, as I am working on a PhD in Creative Writing with a focus in the parallels between poetry and cartography. Please email me at eabartholomew(at)gmail(dot)com, and I look forward to hearing from you!Thanks,Emma

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