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An aerial view of Glastonbury tour. Photo by Niklas Weiss on Unsplash.
Photo credit: Niklas Weiss and Unsplash

Folk culture, creativity and Gen-Z

Eco poet, Eleanor Flowerday, explores the idea that folk culture may be key to the belonging that Gen Z so longs for.

Eleanor Flowerday, eco poet and folklore writer
Eleanor Flowerday is a poet and writer from East London, currently living and working in Nottingham. Much of her work is eco-poetry and nature writing, using folklore and gothic fiction to find a connection to the natural world and artistic creation.

On my sixteenth birthday, my dad gave me Carolyne Larrington’s The Land of the Green Man: a journey through the folklore of Britain and how it has shaped our understanding of the land, ourselves, and the literature we write. I can’t think of any other book that has had more of an impact on me or my own writing. I’m an eco-poet, I grew up in the East End and moved to Nottingham when I left home at 18 for university, and I find myself constantly itching to find some sort of connection to the land on which I live. I believe this is quite a common feeling for people of my generation, a self-proclaimed ‘cusper’ in my early twenties – a realisation that there isn’t much happiness when you’re swallowed up by urban living in the jaws of late-stage capitalism that has dislocated us so much from a connection with the land.

I believe that is what folk art, music and literature is for: it offers that bridge between the human and non-human world that allows us to connect through humanising the green, or indeed through greening the human. When I was eighteen, only just an ‘adult’ and revising for my A-Levels, my friend and I went to Glastonbury to celebrate the Winter Solstice. We were looking for a rich folk culture, customs and rituals to take part in, and writers and musicians to connect with. I can’t say that’s what we found. It’s a place of New Age pilgrimage and I ruined my chance of making any friends by loudly declaring my dislike of cider in the King Arthur pub.

Folk art allows us to connect through humanising the green, or through greening the human.

The strangest moment of the whole trip was the climb we made up Glastonbury Tor on the final day of our short visit. It was an island once more – with heavy mist sitting at the bottom of the Tor and late apples, still clinging to the orchard trees at the hill’s foot, coming out of the fog like shrouded lanterns. My friend and I climbed the Tor with our luggage on our backs, she barefoot and in long beaded skirts, and me in red Doc Martins and pinstripe trousers. As we started to walk up and caught sight of the tower, the strangest thing happened. A deep warbling sound suddenly appeared out of nowhere, or rather, as it seemed, out of the lidless top of the tower. It was like the tower was this great stone trumpet and we felt the music coming out the top as golden sound, leaking into the endless whiteness of the December fog. When we finally got to the top and looked inside, we found a man sitting in the corner playing the didgeridoo.

I intruded on someone trying to re-enchant their world, or reconnect with the natural world through music.

This moment stuck with me and I used it in a short story I wrote in the first year of my degree where the tower was instead a lighthouse stalked by an aggressive selkie. I suppose it wasn’t the communal folk customs that I expected to find in Glastonbury that inspired the story, rather a small moment when I intruded on someone trying to re-enchant their world, or reconnect with the natural world through music.

Folk culture is the glue in a lot of nature writing that allows us to understand the abstract natural world. A lot of folklore has that unique quality of being both localised and universal – it speaks to how we experience the world as an individual but also as a global community. In Nottingham, we have Robin Hood, but then so do Sheffield, Doncaster and East Anglia. He’s a perfect example of a figure of folklore that is more metaphor than man: an incarnation of the Green Man that lends a face to the greenwood and turns it into something we can actually connect to.

Since lockdown, the natural world is something many young people are desperate to connect to. They express it through folk culture in both the media they consume and create: you need only look ​at the television shows and books that find themselves popular with teenage and young-adult audiences – you can’t see for witches, gods, magic, monsters. Even pop music can’t escape from the influence of folk tradition, with Taylor Swift’s lockdown album Folklore (2020) becoming the anthem of TikTok’s teen creators, looking for enchantment whilst stuck at home.

Folklore, and indeed broader aspects of folk culture, roots you in your environment both physically and creatively.

I can’t speak for all young people, and certainly don’t want to suggest that folk culture is the antithesis to urbanness, rather present it as the creative sphere many young creatives tap into. Folklore, and indeed broader aspects of folk culture, roots you in your environment both physically and creatively, shaping and expanding the way we tell stories to one another. It provides that line of connection to your surroundings that is so necessary for the disconnected creatives of my generation: a feeling of belonging.