A POET helped put the town on the map across the pond by reading his odes to the town’s natural beauty in the American Midwest.
Peter Street, from Leigh, was invited to cross the Atlantic and explore some off America’s more off-the-beaten-track locations on a three-and-a-half week literary road trip stretching from Kansas to New Mexico.
Peter was invited on the trip to promote his new book Listening to the Dark, which features nature poetry inspired by Haigh Hall and verses about childhood memories of Wigan and environmental issues, by a retired professor who sponsored the trip, which combined readings in several states during a 2,500 mile drive leading to his final destination at a literary festival in Albuquerque, where the book’s official launch was held.
Peter’s first Stateside trip was certainly eventful, combining visiting sites of literary importance and enjoying some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country with a rather shocking encounter with a group of native Americans on a visit to an Indian reservation.
However, Peter says his American hosts and audiences, including members of The Land Institute in Kansas which studies issues involving the natural world such as food production and climate change, also enjoyed meeting their British visitor and finding out more about Wigan.
He said: “The Land Institute asked to hear me read because they are doing a massive project on plants. They are experimenting with growing perennial crops rather than annuals because the area is so dry, so they wanted to hear my nature poems about the wildflowers and Haigh Hall.
“The promotion of the book went really well, and the audiences really seemed to like my Wigan accent. They also found it interesting because some of the professors who came to the events were interested in The Road to Wigan Pier, and one of my ideas in writing this book was to promote the beauty of Wigan and correct some of Orwell’s more negative views of the town.”
However, like many writers travelling outside their native lands, Peter was not just content to promote his current work during his incredible road trip, but was inspired by his surroundings to start work on more poems.
However, he admits that while enjoying his trip across the Atlantic, he also found aspects of American life more difficult to understand.
He said: “I tried to make a trip to visit a ranch DH Lawrence bought during his life, but it was miles from anywhere and I couldn’t go near it as it had fallen into disrepair.
“The landscapes were just incredible, with bison and all that sort of thing, and I also enjoyed visiting the art galleries and other places as I toured round Kansas.
“I took my iPad with me so I was writing something every day, and I’ve taken more than 800 photographs. I was also writing a blog of my trip for an organisation in London. I thought it was also a bit strange, though. Firstly there was the language, which really was completely different from how we speak.
“Also, there was nobody walking. One evening I went for a look round the Mexican quarter of one town, and not one soul was on the road, which I found really freaky.
“There was just nobody about, and in the time I was there I saw only about six cyclists.”
However, by far the strangest incident of the trip occurred at the Taos Pueblo Indian reservation in New Mexico, the home of the Red Willow people and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Known for being secretive and mistrustful of outsiders since an incident in 1847 when a US cavalry officer gave orders for the Pueblo fort to be shelled during a revolt, the Pueblo proved to Peter and his group that their reputation is based on more than myth.