Poetry of Place
Against the current
tide of globalization, we posit its opposite, "localization." As Wendell
Berry points out in The Unsettling of America, our culture and
our literature valorize moving on, lighting out for the territory ahead
of the rest, as opposed to staying in one place and knowing it well. However,
our identity is tied to place: We don't know who we are unless we know
where we are. "In this hemisphere," writes Scott Russell Sanders in Staying
Put, "many of the worst abuses—of land, forests, animals, and communities—have
been carried out by 'people who root themselves in ideas rather than places.'"
Paul Shepard thinks
that the lack or denial of our connection to the plants and animals
in a given place makes us crazy. Rootless, detached people are dangerous.
On the other hand, sanity happens when people understand that where
they are is who they are.
poets, Mary Oliver has been one of the most articulate in stressing
the importance for both poets and readers of poetry to connect poetry
to the natural world. "Poetry was born in the relationship between men
of earth and the earth itself," she says. "Poetry is a product of our
history, and our history is inseparable from the natural world."
A poetry of place
is a poetry which values locales, which sees and lets the reader experience
what makes a place unique among places. Much contemporary poetry focuses
on psychological states, feelings, intellectual concepts, or language
play totally devoid of reference to the real, lived, sensually experienced
and infinitely varied physical world. Poetry of place may focus on such
interior subjects, but it lets us experience them more profoundly and
more authentically because they’re rooted in a specific time and place.
In its fullest sense,
the term "place" in poetry includes not only the geographical location
and natural environment, but the history of human presence and before.
"Place" includes the people living there now, and, as in all poetry,
the voice of the speaker of the poem. As Leslie Marmon Silko says, "Viewers
are as much a part of the landscape as the boulders they stand on."
The speaker may be passing through, or better yet, a longtime resident
of a place whose utterance might be instantly recognizable to other
residents, while simultaneously offering insight to strangers resident
of nonhuman realities may be the greatest challenge of all. The language
of myth, especially in the shape-shifting Paleolithic imagination, may
be the closest we have come to a verbal representation of animals and
landscape. In the Paleolithic world, as described by Calvin Martin,
the human relation to nature is direct, intimate, physical, and spiritual
in an animistic sense. Beyond myth, the verbal means remaining to us
have included images, metaphors, and the pathetic fallacy. We
believe some new mode must be found, based in the concrete image,
some equivalent to the revival of myth in contemporary terms, a transformation
of history. Renewing the human relation to nature depends upon poets
taking up this challenge.
We hope to encounter
again a poetry that finds a pure delight in being alive in the here
and now. Such delight is not exclusive to poetry directly expressing
exuberance or ecstasy, but occurs whenever the poet reflects the external
world in concrete detail, lovingly observed, even in darker moods. And
surely, our strong emotions generated by "political poems" often stem
from feelings of delight cut short by the hubris and shortsightedness
of those who would dispose of nature itself—source of our common meaning
and sustenance—for power or profit. In positive terms, we recognize
through the resonance of the poem the texture of our own relation to
some other place, a spiritual dimension. We hope that Windfall
has been a source of such sustenance.