Leeds Beckett University - City Campus,
Podcast series launched to highlight plastic pollution using short stories of Malcolm Lowry
Over the last three years, a network of academics, students, environmentalists, musicians, retired seafarers and members of the public, made six return ferry crossings between Malcolm Lowry’s birthplace - Wirral and neighbouring Liverpool - and his favourite location, the Isle of Man.
Sound recordings from the journeys, including short interviews, re-tellings of passages from Malcolm Lowry’s short stories, and abstract sounds, have now been made into a series of podcasts, with the help of ‘Frozen Planet’ sound recordist, Chris Watson – available on the project's website.
The project was led by Dr Alan Dunn, Reader in the Leeds School of Arts at Leeds Beckett University, with Dr Helen Tookey, Reader in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University, in collaboration with Bluecoat, Liverpool’s Centre for Contemporary Art, and Mariner’s Park - a retirement facility for those with maritime experience.
Dr Dunn explained: “Through this project, we wanted to reconsider some of the short stories of Wirral-born writer Malcolm Lowry, who was born in 1909 and died in 1957, in relation to increased care of our seas.
“Already in the 1950s, Lowry was living off the coast of Canada in a self-sustaining manner and writing about the detrimental impact industrialisation was having on the oceans. In many of his short stories, gathered together in the collection ‘Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place’ (named after a Manx fishermen’s hymn), he used the Isle of Man, which he visited as a child, as a model for hope and natural beauty.”
The network met at sea between Wirral and Liverpool and the Isle of Man, between 2021 and 2022, and gathered content for a series of podcasts. The aim was to develop a new sonic language for thinking about ocean pollution, and particular plastics, using Lowry’s texts as markers.
Dr Dunn said: “During the crossings, The Art Doctors - featuring our own Dr Liz Stirling from the Leeds School of Arts - engaged ferry passengers in using Lowry’s texts to make collages around ocean-related themes. On one crossing they even engaged a group of comedians who were crossing for a gig, including Paul Merton.
“One of our network members is Chris Watson, known for his award-winning sound recording work with David Attenborough. On the island Chris made some astounding underwater recordings of limpets and shrimp. There are other snippets of conversation within the abstract podcasts as well as soundtracks from Isle of Man musicians, young people playing with Lego and excerpts from ‘Luminescence’ from our own Sam Mitchell, a Senior Learning Officer in the Leeds School of Arts.”
The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Network Grant awarded in 2020.
The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown Dependency in the Irish Sea, with a population of 83,000. It faces some important environmental challenges, including cataloguing Blue Carbon resources through the Manx Blue Carbon Project and maintaining its UNESCO Biosphere status, which was awarded in 2016, and threats from unsustainable fishing, windfarms, gas mining, pollution and single-use plastics.
Dr Dunn added: “Co-Investigator Dr Helen Tookey is a Lowry expert - and one of the most pleasing aspects of our network phase was the range of people who generously gave their time to chat, including beach cleaners, grassroots recycling agencies, local bands and members from the Isle of Man government. Other network members from Leeds Beckett included Dr Matt Green in the Leeds School of Arts and Olga Munroe in Leeds Business School - as well as Fine Art students, Frankie Mazzotta and Kristina Nenova, the Band of Holy Joy/BAD PUNK, and academics from Bath Spa University, University of Leeds, University of Chester and University of Hertfordshire.”