R.M. Francis

I’m a writer from the Black Country, the UK’s Industrial heartland in the West Midlands, and my writing is deeply indebted to and focused on place-identity in this post-industrial region. I’m interested in the ways places impact, connect and clash with sense of self – both communal and individual; treating landscape in my work as a fruitful compost from which sprouts drama, narrative and poetry.

One of my research passions is Environmental Psychology, which seeks to explore how and why people attach themselves to their locales, what disparate elements build up a sense of place or genius loci and what influence this has on selfhood. I fuse this with a drift or derive approach, borrowed from the psychogeographers and deep topographers of the Situationist International and the more contemporary voices in the field, like Iain Sinclair and Paul Farley.

This passion for the overlooked conurbations of my home, its strange off-kilter landscape and industrial heritage, forged with the more academic and intellectual explorations informed my PhD research at the University of Wolverhampton, where I now work as a lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing. This research and creative endeavour resulted in my novel, Bella (Wild Pressed Books) and poetry collection, Subsidence (Smokestack Books). Both of these are explorations of regional place-identity, especially in terms of the working-class cultures of the Black Country.

I’ve had success translating these poetics to other regions too. In 2019 I had the huge pleasure of being the David Bradshaw Writer in Residence at the University of Oxford. This was a six week residency that tasked me with writing new work inspired by the city and illuminated by the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project.

This focus on place writing and this consideration of the bricolage that makes up a sense of place forced me down to the grounds that give rise to places – the geology. This is particularly pertinent to my home, due to the geological significance of its geography which directly resulted in it becoming the industrial powerhouse it once was. Without the mineral and fossil rich grounds, our glassmakers, chainmakers and steelworkers wouldn’t have become the furnace for the industrial revolution. Likewise, this wouldn’t have built the networks of communal chain links associated with them. In this observation, and with the aid of Geopoetic visions and ideas it seems this is the base layer and foundation stone of place-identity. It is that fruitful compost I mentioned above. This digging down into my locale and into the earth led me to Geopoetic examinations and ideas, and I have to say, I’m hooked. It has changed the way I feel and behave towards my home. Although I’ve only been working in this way since June 2020, the work of Kenneth White, Norman Bissell, the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics and the International Institute of Geopoetics has been profoundly inspiring and of huge influence.

With this in mind, I successfully secured a fellowship from the Early Research Award Scheme at the University of Wolverhampton to become the Poet in Residence for the Black Country Geological Society. I’ll be exploring the make-up of the land, geological language and method to produce poems inspired by and set in the Black Country Geopark (recently awarded UNESCO Global Geopark status).

I’m looking forward to continuing these geopoetic pereriginations – as White might put it – touching the earth and having it touch me. You can follow me in these drifts on twitter @RMFrancis and my blog https://rmfrancis.weebly.com/chain-coral-chorus . You can contact me at the University of Wolverhampton on r.francis@wlv.ac.uk