The Lay of the Land: Poetry and Landscape
In this city where the only elevations are office towers and freeway overpasses, and where a cement-lined ditch is called a bayou, it is easy to forget that there are places in the world full of snow-capped things and cold, clear, running things, not to mention dewy, meadowy-type things and gently rolling things.
I recently returned from a vacation out west and I've been thinking about how landscape affects the human psyche, or more specifically about the relationship between landscape and poetry.
There are some poets whose entire ouevres are wedded to specific places. It's impossible for me to think of Robert Frost, for example, without imagining the stony grays of a New England winter. Then there are poets for whom the idea of place is crucial. I'm thinking of James Wright in particular. Whether he is writing about his native Rust Belt or his own craggy inner landscape, a Wright poem always feels very rooted in place to me. I can always see and smell and almost touch his poems. They inhabit a palpable space beyond the page whether that space is named or not. It is not so much a matter of the poems' settings as it is a sort of groundedness which acknowledges our ties to the landscapes through which we walk and the ways they form our vision and our thoughts.
I only said I'd been thinking about the relationship between landscape and poetry. I didn't say I had come up with anything definitive to say about it. If you have any thoughts on the subject, or any other, drop me a note via the comments link. Thanks again for reading.
Below is an admittedly abitrary, idiosyncratic and incomplete list of some poets whose writing is informed by the lands on which they lived.
Collected Poems / Robert Frost
Opened Ground / Seamus Heaney
The Double Axe & Other Poems / Robinson Jeffers
The Women at Point Sur & Other Poems / Robinson Jeffers
A New Selected Poems / Galway Kinnell
Axe Handles: Poems / Gary Snyder
No Nature / Gary Snyder
Turtle Island / Gary Snyder
The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems / William Stafford
Paterson / William Carlos Williams
Collected Poems / James Wright
Below are a few books of criticism on the subject of landscape and poetry
Gardens and Grim Ravines: The Language of Landscape in Victorian Poetry / Pauline Fletcher
Literature and the Environment / edited by George Hart & Scott Slovic
Landscape in Poetry from Homer to Tennyson / Francis Turner Palgrave
Dry Place: Landscapes of Belonging and Exclusion / Patricia L. Price