In Haunt

The poetry of Helen Darby pulses with imagery and pounces with its impact – a deft delivery of words exploring everything from gender identity and expression, to the turbulent landscapes of the North. Body and geography, and voices and memory – all are drawn together with energy and grit.

Helen Darby

Now she is part of Rural Eerie: The Strange Countryside Explored through Sounds and Words - an evening of readings and a soundscape created by Manchester’s own hauntronica trio Flange Circus on the 19th October at The Peer Hat in Manchester (part of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019).  Here Helen will be plunging the audience into an immersive performance of her poetry, with other writers involved including Andrew Michael Hurley, Sarah Hymas, Mark Pajak and Richard Skelton. Tickets can be booked via the link here, over the phone (please contact Lucy Simpson on 0161 247 6740) and tickets will also be available on the door.

Although a regular performer at a number of Manchester spoken word nights, Helen is currently based in New Mills, Derbyshire and grew up in Newhey, a village near Rochdale at the base of the South Pennines. She is therefore no stranger to the influence of the rural, regularly exploring the areas around her as well as the mysterious borderlands edging on the urban, areas in flux. Research Impact and Public Engagement Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University, Helen regularly crosses from country to city, taking in landscape and letting it load her use of language.

Rural Eerie

Themes of exploration and self-expression seep into her wide-ranging work, with a chapbook 12 DRAWINGS WITH POEMS – Helen responding poetically to illustrations by artist Victoria Jane – published in 2018. A resonant performer, she has since been invited to read at a range of events including Lancaster Spotlight, That's What She Said Manchester, Superbia for Manchester Pride, New Mills Festival and the Brontë Festival of Women's Writing: to name just a few.  Place permeates her work, as is seen in the inclusion of her writing as part of the New Mills Festival Poetry Trail and a piece in the ‘Buzzin Bards’ Anthology, to be released on Local Gems Poetry Press.

The instinctive urgency of Helen’s use of language highlights a writer determined to create work that has an impact beyond the page and into the environs –as she is significantly interested in people, community and their connection to place, after all. This also extends to her other creative endeavors, especially as one of the key figures behind Queer Family Tea; a communal gathering for queer people to enjoy shared time and food together, taking place every Thursday at Manchester’s co-operative venue Partisan Collective. It was here Helen also performed poetry on the theme of ‘Queer Family’.

Ahead of Rural Eerie, we spoke to Helen Darby herself to find out more…

Rural Eerie

Hello Helen. What were your first thoughts on being presented with the concept of the ‘Rural Eerie’ and how do think it connects with your writing?

“I grew up in a semi-rural area near Rochdale, and have been preoccupied with the Gothic and occult since my teens, so the theme appealed to me immediately. I have written some Gothic themed poetry before, but this event has given me the chance to write specifically towards a concept to which I feel a strong affinity.”

Can you tell us about some of your own experiences of the ‘Rural Eerie’ – or experiences that you have seen this way in retrospect, as a result of being involved with this project?

“Living in Derbyshire, as I do now, I can find the rural eerie everywhere. Since engaging with this project I have observed more scenes and dioramas – a particularly crooked twisting branch, a white goat craning to eat leaves, a half ruined stone doorway. I photograph them when I can (and ruin the magic).”

Rural Eerie

Why do you think it is important to explore the relationship between the rural and the eerie – what can be gained from it, do you think?

“My deepest influence in terms of the rural eerie is probably Alan Garner. I am interested in how rural landscapes are as much palimpsests as any urban space – how slips in time can be evoked from shadow presences traced in brooks, fields, forests and ruins. The deep appeal of the rural, for me, is the extent of time found there: back further than the industrial age to the medieval, roman, pre-historic and deep geological time frames of the landscape. Accessing this sense of time in the countryside I find to be a sublime experience, one of vastation and personal transformation. I return to it to disappear from the immediate demands of the city, and find the dispersal of my individuality there to be a consolation.”

The Rural Eerie event itself is taking place in Manchester, as part of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019. Do you think the concentration of human activity in cities somehow makes the rural even more eerie?

“The city is exciting, but humanity makes it dangerous. Although the rural might be eerie, I do not find that dark and solitude to be unnerving. If what hides in the shadow line beneath the trees is other–worldly then it is welcome to take me in.”

Rural Eerie

Can you tell us about some of your other current and future projects?

“I am taking a hiatus from performing for a few months after the Rural Eerie to concentrate on writing, but any news I do have will be found on helendarbypoetry.com.”

By Emily Oldfield

Photography: Image 1 - of Helen Darby, makeup and photograph thanks to Rose Niland (covered in this previous Haunt Manchester article here). Rest of images - provided by Helen.

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