‘Shifting vantage, common musings: the politics of Wordsworthian excursus in the poetry of Peter Riley’, Textual Practice (May 2018)

My article on Peter Riley, Wordsworth, walking, pilgrimage and Peter Larkin (the “needful things that life requires”) was published by Textual Practice in May. There are 50 free e-prints available for download by clicking on this link. In the unlikely event that they run out, email me and I’ll send a PDF.


This article reads the poetry of Peter Riley in the tradition of the loco-descriptive excursion poem, interrogating the politics of its logic of ascent and return and the shifting vantage points it allows the twentieth- and twenty-first-century poet-traveller on the globalised world of capitalist ‘gain’. It detects dual registers running throughout three excursive volumes – Noon Province (1989), The Llyn Writings (2007) and The Glacial Stairway (2011) – that turn around an ambivalent lexicon that is both spiritual and financial. The article shows how this duality maps onto the self-splitting of Romantic excursus in William Wordsworth and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and argues that such division allows Riley to mediate between spiritual dedication to the excursion’s object and the tainted ‘world’ of commerce and bodily needs. It concludes by deploying Peter Larkin’s concepts of sufficiency and scarcity to frame Riley’s repeated use of dropping, cadential structures at the excursion’s end as a return to what Larkin calls the ‘basic conditions’ of the ordinary, common world. Bathos, withdrawal and coda are rhetorical figures for the abandonment of vantage in favour of a politics of what will suffice: their deployment circumvents the trajectory of accumulative gain that Riley employs the excursion to critique.

The Solitary, the Wanderer and the Poet (from William Wordsworth’s The Excursion, 1814) by Delmar Harmood Banner (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany 1896 – Ulverston, Cumbria 1983) and Josefina Alys Hermes de Vasconcellos (Surrey 1904 – Lancashire 2005). He lived at Little Langdale, Ambleside in the Lake District, and was married to the sculptor Josephina de Vasconcellos in a farmhouse at The Bield in Little Langdale at the heart of the Lakes, with two adopted sons, Brian and Billy, despite his homosexuality. Vasconcellos and Banner had joint exhibitions in London (19/4647 and 1954/55) and Bradford (1987). Gilbert Spencer, who had been evacuated to Ambleside with his family when the Royal College of Art was moved out of London to escape the Blitz was one of many artist friends whom they knew. Other friends included the poet Norman Nicholson and the well-known local farmer and breeder of Herdwick sheep Mrs Heelis (aka Beatrix Potter) whose pair of portraits the artist painted posthumously. The scene depicts Blea Tarn and the Langdale Pikes, and includes a portrait of the poet sitting on the rock to the right.


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