On obscurity

A BBC website piece on the international appeal of Detectorists, available here, provides some instructive reading, in how superb writing can transcend supposed barriers: that, far from obscure cultural references being deterrents, they can actually possess intrinsic appeal because of their obscurity.

I’ve had similar thought when reading We Peaked at Paper, subtitled ‘an oral history of British zines’, co-written by Gavin Hogg and my friend Hamish Ironside. It covers fanzines devoted to all manner of obscure subjects, including, to my delight, A Kick up the Rs, about the mighty QPR. What’s evident is the passionate energy which the founders brought to their individual fanzines and it’s that which is important, surely, in enabling niche content to reach beyond those who might already be converted. I can’t recommend the book, which is beautifully produced and available here, enough.

The same thought occurred to me when reading my favourite poem, ‘Behind The Turnip Harvest’, in Julia Deakin’s 2012 collection, Eleven Wonders, published by Graft Poetry and available here. It describes how, when she was young, she and her family once went round to the adjoining semi-detached:

Perched on their mustard settee
on our best behaviour, we sipped tea
in their front room, which was ours

inside-out, with the same criss-cross
wooden knick-knack rack but strange
ornaments and more furniture.


Deakin evokes the time and place of her childhood with such precision, yet such a light touch too. The poem contains references to ‘Embassy Regal smoke’, a ‘Vymura trellis’ and ‘our Rowland Hilder’, which cast the reader into that early-1960s world. I had no idea what a Rowland Hilder was until the penny dropped that Hilder was the artist who painted the (presumably reproduction) picture in the poem’s title. The fact that Deakin had left it to the reader to work this out made the poem even more enjoyable and is a reminder that less is often more.

2 thoughts on “On obscurity

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