The Ground Aslant: An Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry.
Shearsman Books: Exeter, UK, 2011.
where this book begins are poems by Colin Simms. Born
in 1939, influenced by fellow Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting and
American Beats, Simms has "published thousands
of natural-history letters,
poems, and his scientific work has an international reputation."(1) It
interests me that Simms' range of knowledge does not begin with
literary studies, but with trekking through the landscape itself.
And so I was drawn into the pages of this book by a poem of
a wolverine, ferocious hunter in the cold boreal
forests, tundra, and taiga
who can face encounter
who must face it
listen in the forest first where
the voices we want to hear
are not people's
of The People In
of the glade
is sudden in the forest eyes
bright-red-brown-as Mars (2)
It's a poem that makes
political points with sharp teeth, while also opening a
landscape of radical aesthetics. Warrior/poets, perhaps, armed only
with words that illuminate, not weapons that assassinate,
or exterminate individuals or whole
Further along, Welch
poet Zoë Skoulding
explores a new bridge, "as
the vein runs / under fragile reconstructions / of what
was holding us together."(3) What
used to hold us together was a reciprocal relationship
with the earth, one that since the 18th Century's Industrial
Revolution has become
more one-sided, if not suicidal. We
evolved as a bridge between heaven and earth, and instead
Thus, Skoulding continues:
I walk beside the swing
of your pulse
your heart pumps
both directions at once
the lines of the landscape
through me to somewhere else (3)
old straight track, ley lines that
align ancient sacred sites, "run through
me to somewhere else," because
too few artists, psychologists, philosophers, and teachers
are learning (again) that being human is larger than human
One place where the problem is planted
is in the
word “psychological,” which is commonly thought
to mean that one's psyche is only in the head. While in reality
it's the whole world. A
old Zen poem rhetorically asks: "When
consciousness ends in the skull, how can joy exist?"(4)
through Druidical dolmens, around menhirs and other
Megalithic standing stones,
I had almost forgotten to begin with where I am. Rutted with
dirt bike tracks running parallel
to a road cambering with vehicles of various
weights and sizes, this narrow path is verged with wildly
sages and shiny patches
oak, in a California cobbled together from clumps earth
that over millennia sailed in from somewhere else.
"An island arc here, a piece of a continent there—a Japan
a time, a
a Madagascar—came crunching in upon the continent and
have thus far adhered."(5)
the top of a
mesa, a parked panel truck's sides
are painted: Santa
I look through a notch
in the hills onto a choppy steel-gray sea that
stretches to Asia. A young man
a floppy hat appears. We talk briefly about
the blustery weather. Then he says, "I think
a lot of people will be flying today." It
was not until I had walked among Great Blue Herons,
saw the stoic faces of Western Gulls, and was transfixed
by pelicans skimming the waves until suddenly
dinner—that I began
to think, "What unlucky roll of
instead of wings?"
it would be hours before anyone jump off and sail
on the slowly warming currents, so, with shoes gripping bone-dry
feeling ponderous as a dinosaur burdened
its own gravity.
John "Brinck" Jackson, landscape "is
never simply a natural space, a feature of the natural
the place where we establish our own human organization
of space and time."(6) This
includes what we call "wilderness," a tract
of clamorous realty
environments that have been eviscerated, mined-out,
irradiated, spilled on, stripped down to their bedrock.
Hopis had held a rain dance Sunday, calling on the
the water blessing to the land. Perhaps the kachinas had
listened to their Hopi children. Perhaps not. It was
not a Navajo concept,
the idea of adjusting nature to human needs. The Navajo
adjusted himself to remain in harmony with the universe.
withheld the rain, the Navajo sought the pattern of
he sought the pattern of all things—to find its beauty
and live in harmony with it."(7)
Red ink on the sides of the canyon, Navajo script
and the great emptying, the great advance (8)
took ecological systems working together millions of
years to create can never be restored, only superficially
reconstructed, as "wilderness
valuations depend in part on the presence of properties
which cannot survive the disruption/restoration process." (9) It
has been counter-argued that as humans are a part of
nature whatever we do is "natural." "Modification
by human activity, then, is the price the world pays
humans around." (10) But
this is a price the world can no longer afford.
is true that like the Hindu god Shiva nature both
creates and destroys. But, in doing so, there's no
discrimination between species, no ego involved.
While humans level and build in myopic
an orogeny that extends even into modernity's
spiritual tropes. It
would follow that a poem that addresses Britain's
mythic standing stones might look like Francis
Settings x3," with its words
carefully thought into place. (11)
three rows of
three evenly spaced
matter how much we work toward creating our own world,
"it is always a world and not the world." (12) Thus,
the psyche measures one's life one drop at a time, using
an archaic technology.
a chepsydal measuring of
my life; a sound
size of a small blot
can shake a whole house. (13)
Blatsoe's village in
Dorset traces its roots back over a thousand years, to
when it was a pen for wild
boars, animals that figure in many mythologies, including
the Greek Mysteries. So that,
the initiates at Eleusis bathed themselves and
their sacrificial pigs in the sea near Athens, they formed
a sorrowful procession
along the Sacred Road to Eleusis. They—like
the goddess (Demeter)—were heavy-hearted
searching for the lost maiden (Persephone)." (14)
daughter, Persephone, had been abducted by Hades, the Lord
of the Underworld, and taken down into the bowels
earth to become his
strange that while reading this poem, this myth that
weaves together wild (flowers) and cultivated (wheat)
would return to me. Did it return? Or is our unconscious
continuously spinning myths on the border of our consciousness?
I will draw a
hat & black
it down to my feet
for the journeying
a killing moon...(13)
message from an unseen terrain, delivered by "the
fatal raven, that in his voice / Carries the dreadful summons
of our death."(15) For,
as depth psychologist James Hillman reminds us—
is an opening downward within each moment, an unconscious
like the thin thread of the dream that we awaken
with in our hands each morning leading back and down
into the images
of the dark." (16)
The dark cave
in which the primordial self gestates throughout one's life
as if it were raining
On May 29
1960, an anthology of forty-four poets
was published in New York by Grove Press. Edited
by Donald M. Allen, The New American Poetry's
mystique, with its message that something
exciting was stirring in the coffeehouses and
bars of New York and San Francisco, continues
to reverberate in literary circles around the world. "In
1960," Marjorie Perloff recently wrote,
that a poem be self-contained, coherent, and
unified: that it present, indirectly to be sure, a paradox,
oblique truth or special insight, utilizing the devices of
irony, concrete imagery, symbolism, and structural economy."(18) The
poets in Allen's anthology broke through these conventions, and
more than fifty
sold over 100,000 copies, The
New American Poetry is "still
acknowledged by all later anthologists as the fountainhead
of radical American poetics."(17)
In 2003, as
science and technology have become more and more involved
in the daily
our lives, philosopher/geologist Robert Frodeman wrote, "Our
most heartfelt concerns have been converted into foreign
of science, economies, and interest group politics." He
went on to say that the early 20th Century English art
critic, John Ruskin,
the artist against imposing a spurious clarity upon
the world: to correctly
depict nature, the artist must 'have recourse to
some confused mode of execution, capable of expressing
the confusion of
to complexity, thanks largely to Internet connectivity
a World Culture is subsuming established cultural centers.
Here I suggest that
on this planet is, at least in part, the failure of
its poets to
reanimate the metaphors of its languages and
ensoul its academies. Can
a book still accomplish
this? As an English bard famously said, "That
is the question."
I have only recently come to appreciate the accomplishments
poetry, beginning to see how, unlike North American societies,
Britain is aware of, and preserves, its legends
and mythologies that have been sung for
thousands of years. Of course, America and Canada are
countries whose original peoples were subjected to genocide,
relocation and colonization, while Britain
has a continuous history from at least the Neolithic
into which invaders and their stories were absorbed.
all share the same planet, and are electronically entangled,
landscape poem is still drawn from the ground where one
is at the moment. From
there, a collective poetics beckons.
As Ezra Pound said, "Poets are the antennae of the
the human race.
Ground Aslant is among the few anthologies
inking out a language and aesthetics as complex
as the world
in which we live, making it one of the most important
anthologies of poetry published in
past fifty years.
every word every world is its own
hidden footfall crosses light
the ground aslant where
walkers sleep along lines of
habit scored in ink barely
reading the grid one instant to
1-"Author's Page," Shearsman
2- Simms, C. From, "from Carcajou.'"
Skoulding, Z. From, "The New Bridge."
4- Cleary, T. (2002) Translator, Secrets
of the Blue Cliff
Boston: Shambhala, 2002.
5- McPhee, J. (1993) Assembling California.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Jackson, J.B. (1984) Discovering the
Vernacular Landscape. New Haven: Yale
University Press. When I visited him at his
home south of Santa Fe, he had retired
from his professorship at Harvard's Graduate
School of Design. He looked like a
grizzled Humphrey Bogart, in a black motorcycle
nearby. Through the building's open door
I could see floor to ceiling shelves burdened
with books. "A rough-cut intellectual," I
thought, but didn't say.
7- Hillerman, T. (1978) Listening Woman.
New York, Harper & Row.
8- Riley, P. From, "from Western
Elliott, R. (1982) "Faking Nature" Inquiry 25
(1986) "Faking Nature": A Review." "Restoration and Management
Notes." (Winter). http://www.plosin.com/work/FakingNature.html
F. From, "from Stone
Settings." See my Poetica critique of Presley's book, Lines
of Sight: http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/weishaus/Poetica/blog-1.htm
Bronk, W. From, "At Tikal."
Bletsoe, E. From, "Cross-in-Hand."
N. (1980) The Moon & The Virgin.
New York: Harper & Row.
Peele, G. (1599) The Love of King David
and fair Bethsaba.
16- Hillman, J. (1979) The Dream and the Underworld.
New York: Harper & Row.
17- Clark, T.A. From, "The Grey
Perloff, M. "Who's American Poetry?:
Anthologizing in the Nineties." http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/perloff/anth.html
Still in print, The New American
Poetry is presently
published by The University of California
Frodeman, R. (2003) Geo-Logic.
Albany: State University of New York
Press; Ruskin, J. (1907) Elements
20- Skoulding, Z. From, "from Here.'"