Friday, January 11, 2008

Gone – the narrow copse

Earth Shattering: Eco Poems is the latest anthology from Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley, following recent successes like Staying Alive, Being Alive, and Pleased to See Me: 69 Very Sexy Poems. It is full of interest and I’m sure I’ll draw from it in future postings, but here I’m going to concentrate on the introduction where Astley sets his collection in context, discussing recent anthologies and critical writing on ecopoetics. Here are some of the chief sources for Earth Shattering:

  • J. Scott Bryson’s Ecopoetry: A Critical Introduction (2002) defines ecopoetry as a subset of nature poetry with three main characteristics. These are (1) an awareness of interdependence and connectiveness (as in Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Web’); (2) humility in the face of nature; (3) scepticism of hyper-rationality which is usually linked to concern about ecological catastrophe.
  • I have talked here before about Terry Gifford’s definition of post-pastoral, which has similar attributes to Bryson’s ecopoetry. Astley describes Gifford’s 1995 study Green Voices: Understanding contemporary nature poetry as the first comprehensive British study of ecopoetry (the essays in Bryson focus on US poets).
  • I've also referred to John Elder’s Imagining the Earth: Poetry and the Vision of Nature (1985) before here, e.g. in relation to William Everson, and Astley notes its importance as a relatively early study in the field.
  • Then of course there is Jonathan Bate’s The Song of the Earth (1990), which Astley praises for presenting ‘ecology and poetry together as one body of thought and feeling.’ I’ve only used this book once here so far, but it's worth saying in passing that The Song of the Earth is one of the best books on landscape in the arts I have read. Jonathan Bate writes so well that you almost feel disappointed when you turn from himto consult the actual books he discusses: a case in point would be William Henry Hudson’s Green Mansions, which was less interesting to me as a novel than the extracts Bate used in The Song of the Earth
The majority of the poetry in Earth Shattering is modern, even though the anthology starts with some of David Hinton’s ‘wilderness poets of ancient China’. But I’ll end this posting with an 'ecopoem' that will be out of copyright, and which provides a link to the previous posting: ‘First Known When Lost’ by Edward Thomas:
I never had noticed it until
‘Twas gone, - the narrow copse
Where now the woodman lops
The last of the willows with his bill
It was not more than a hedge overgrown.
One meadow's breadth away
I passed it day by day.
Now the soil is bare as bone,
And black betwixt two meadows green,
Though fresh-cut faggot ends
Of hazel made some amends
With a gleam as if flowers they had been.
Strange it could have hidden so near!
And now I see as I look
That the small winding brook,
A tributary's tributary, rises there.


snarlerson said...

Your recent blogs that mention Edward Thomas have resonances for me. Last summer, my wife and I made a pilgrimage to Steep and stood on Shoulder of Mutton Hill, admiring the “sixty miles of South Downs.”

But there is another side to Thomas. He did not always live in still-treasured beautiful countryside. He was brought up in South London. In his semi-autobiographical novel, The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans (1913), he describes an almost bucolic Balham. When my son lived there, it seemed so uninspiring and suburban. It was difficult to envisage the country pastimes that Thomas was able to indulge in during his boyhood.

Plinius said...

I believe Balham is now gentrified and trendy - not sure if this makes it even more post pastoral... It's always interesting to read about the suburbs, which as we know from J G Ballard, are where the future lies! Just to take one example that occurs to me for some reason, I was intrigued by John Berger's descriptions of his childhood in a a house backing onto the Ching (in 'Here is Where We Meet'). The Ching sounds like a river out of a Li Po poem, but is actually named after Chingford, on the edge of London.