“If this doesn’t put Ben Myers on everyone’s radar…” – Under the Rock by Benjamin Myers

Near Mytholmroyd (pronounced my-th, rather than mith) is Scout Rock, a steep crag, fenced off from the world, “a doomed place” according to Ben Myers’ terrific work of non-fiction. It loomed large over the early days of Ted Hughes who described it once as “both the curtain and backdrop to existence”. It’s been the home of thieves and suicides. Of drunks and walkers. It erodes and changes, collapses, sinks, and watches over floods. Reading Under the Rock you get the sense that Scout Rock is the centre of not only Myers’ world, but the entire planet.

About a decade ago, Myers and his partner relocated to Hebden Bridge from London, and this move, along with the proceeding years, form the spine of Under the Rock. From his exploration of the area, to the discovery and lingering obsession with Scout Rock, Myers chronicles not only his journey, but the history of the rock. It dominates the narrative, though to an outsider it may not even register. “Unremarkable places are made remarkable by the minds that map them” Myers writes at the start of the book. It all comes to a head in the middle of the book, during which Storm Eva hits the UK and floods the area. It’s the worst flooding for thirty years, and the section of the book devoted to the experience of living through it, rescuing people from flooded homes, witnessing a community coming together to help, is remarkable.

“Since I was young I always wanted to be in the landscape,” Myers writes. That line, recalling the opening of Goodfellas, gives a strong sense of Under the Rock. It’s a book which doesn’t just discuss or describe landscape, but immerses you within it. Even that title invokes the idea of worms, mulch and soil. The things that dwell beneath a rock. Myers is both the person lifting it to see what lives underneath, and at the same time, another person caught underneath it. You can see that in not only the writing of each chapter, but in the poetry that appears between them, fragmented pieces of nature that break the narrative up, in which a patient landscape waits for us to be done, so that it can take over.

If there’s a companion to Under the Rock, it is Will Ashon’s book Strange Labyrinths, in which he explored Epping Forest with a similar eye on the landscape and its relationship to the counter culture. Like Ashon, Myers sees not only how the landscape has changed over time, but how it has both impacted and been impacted by rebellion and dissent. Where, in Epping Forest, the presence of Crass felt like an act of disobedience, Scout Rock gives us the poetry of Ted Hughes, Simon Armitage, and local residents mixing sound for Public Image Ltd, and punk postmen.

Any Cop?: Under the Rock is a book about the landscape as a dissenter, a rebel. It’s an excellent book, and if this doesn’t put Ben Myers on everyone’s radar then I don’t know what will.

 

Daniel Carpenter

 

 

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