Max LongUniversity of Cambridge

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Light, Vision and Observation in Norman Nicholson’s Topographical Notes
in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
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This article examines a notebook owned by the poet and topographical writer Norman Nicholson, which is held in his collection at the John Rylands Library. The notebook, entitled Topographical Notes: Morecambe Bay etc., includes detailed notes and sketches taken at numerous locations in Cumbria, many of which recur in Nicholson’s poetry and topographical texts. The article analyses Nicholson’s note-taking practices, with particular attention to sensory experience and how this was expressed by the writer. The notebook is especially valuable because no other book of its kind survives in Nicholson’s archive, and because it can be dated towards the end of a long interlude in his career as a poet. The notes can be understood as lying in the space between Nicholson’s poetry and his topographical writing: although ostensibly collecting information for Greater Lakeland (1969), Nicholson’s treatment of light and vision suggests that he was beginning to experiment with some of the themes that characterise his later poetry. The article reflects on what these notes can tell us about Nicholson’s note-taking ‘in the field’, and suggests that his habit of treating the landscape as a repository of history is akin to what Kitty Hauser has called the ‘archaeological imagination’.

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