A few summers ago, I took a walk one evening to find a California redwood 5,600 miles from home. Sequoia sempervirens, the sign said, Latin for ever green or everlasting, which is to say such trees are both non-deciduous and among the oldest living things on Earth. Located in the Jardin des Prébendes, a few blocks from the French city center of Tours, this particular sequoia was a mere 150 years old, but had I seen it towering somewhere north along my own Pacific coast, it couldn't have been more wondrous.
There appears to be an anaesthetic edge to the conceptual, as the concept’s generality implies an inactuality that thwarts the presence presupposed by the here-and-now of aesthetic experience. Conversely, things that exist but cannot be encountered are nothing but pure concepts to us. As the concept of an ecosystem, for example, is not exemplified by anything you may encounter wandering through it, it escapes our aesthetic faculties entirely.
My current writing project, swims, exemplifies a kind of Conceptual writing that employs ritual and bodily practice to explore environmental activism. A long poem documenting wild swims across the UK, it starts and ends in Devon, my home county, taking in rivers through Somerset, Surrey, London, Kent, Herefordshire, and the Lake District. Each swim is conceived of as environmental action, which questions how (or whether) individuals can effect environmental change, while also foregrounding the importance of pleasure, leisure, and optimism in the undertaking.
In “Gentle Now, Don't Add to Heartache,” Juliana Spahr offers a narrative of the displacement of human imagination defined by creaturely and vegetal affiliation and transelemental immersion in the natural world. Lists of nonhuman species imply an abundant, connective world, and these same are beseeched not to “add to heartache,” prior to their replacement by chemical-industrial products later in the poem. “We come into the world / and there it is” – the poem’s opening lines prompt.
In a recent essay, “Learning the Grammar of Animacy,” Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist who is a member of the Potawatomi tribe (one of the Ojibwe or Anishinaabe peoples of North America), recounts being stunned when she learned of the word puhpowee from an ethnobotanical study on traditional Anishinaabe uses of fungi.
I’m thinking about the ways poets embed themselves within and ply their awareness to particular locales, and I’m thinking more specifically of how such an embodied poetics is enacted as a healing gesture - and how these gestures connect to form a kind of bioregion, one defined by responsive organisms. It’s no wonder they are appearing often of late – it’s been almost a year to the day that we read reports of a newly-discovered crack in the West Antarctica ice sheet that threatened larger destabilization of surrounding areas, and read that a rise in sea level by 10 feet or more was deemed "unavoidable."
At the beginning of William Empson’s 1935 landmark study Some Versions of Pastoral, he declares: “It is hard for an Englishman to talk definitely about proletarian art, because in England it has never been a genre with settled principles, and such as there is of it, that I have seen, is bad … my suspicion, as I shall try to make clear, is that it is liable to a false limitation.” Three things are interesting to me in this passage: first, that the pastoral is suggested as an historically unsettled term, a term potential of contingency and resistance; second, that the pastoral is identified as, or can be seen to have evolved into a proletarian literature, or vice versa — “I think good proletarian art is usually Covert Pastoral,” says Empson (6) — and third, that this evolution is prone to a “false limit” that can be used well or poorly.
The third Q.E.D. II event of 2013 featured one of Les Figues’s earliest authors, Jennifer Calkins, in conversation with Amanda Ackerman and Anne DeMarkin. Teresa Carmody, the press’s cofounder, moderated.
“Does [writing] need to be an act composed by a human entity?” a rawlings asks in her online multidisciplinary work, Gibber.
This naturally leads to questions about reading: What can we read? How can we read? She writes, that “Gibber hinges on exploring notions that humans read their environments and/or that humans are in conversation with landscapes and the inhabiting non-human species.”