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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ecopoetics Postcard: “Returning to the Meadow” by Anna Reckin

One Mid-Western spring – the kind of spring that’s all-but summer, when snow-thaw and lilac seem surreally close to one another, I read Robert Duncan’s ‘Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’, and writing and thinking about writing has not been the same for me since.

Most of all, it let me work with landscape: landscape as metaphor, landscape as poem, a poem that can be walked through as if it were a green grassy space. The more I work with and within Olson and Duncan’s composition by field, as a writer and as a scholar, the more central it becomes to me. Its insistence on the primacy of space: the space of a page, the space of a field, two- and three-dimensional space and the proprioceptive as basics for accessing memory and imagination; and its understanding of sites that are open, exploratory, playful, but at the same time bristling with material resistances: historical, political, environmental, linguistic. Whose meadow? Who gets to walk there? Is the water table rising or falling? What happens when it floods? What does it look like from the edge, from the middle, next to the watercourse? What’s its relationship with the nearest settlement? Idealized construct or part of a material economy? Margin or meeting-place? Mid, met, mediating – Duncan’s juxtaposition of ‘meadow’ and ‘made’ is especially resonant for thinking about language.

As a metaphor that’s also a form, it released me into a poetry that seemed possible, true (so far as poetry is ever ‘true’), unsentimental. Reluctant – for all the reasons Kathleen Fraser and others have set out to let a poem’s sayings be from ‘a me’ to the outside, a monologue without a stage, I found in Duncan’s work and those who followed radical permission: a place where if there’s an I, she’s produced by a space, emergent or forced out, haunting, or ‘heard off’, from somewhere in the wings. Sure, she has a viewpoint, but ‘who’s telling the story’ is less important than where it’s happening, the cry can’t be prised apart from the wilderness.

When I started to look for ways to theorize this and connect it with other ways of looking at spatiality, however, I drew a blank. So many of the main theorists of spatiality are interested only, it seems, in urban space – very often in constructions of North American urban space that ignore or are set up in contradistinction to a ‘rural’ that can be labelled (and stigmatized) as ‘pastoral’. Retrograde, conservative, escapist. What I end up wanting to work with (creatively and as theoretical construct) is a meadow that can be a field and/or a city square, a contact zone manifest in soundscape, in performance, in marks on a page. A field whose edges keep folding back in; a field I keep finding (myself) in.

This postcard forms part of the forthcoming feature on Ecopoetics in the next issue of HOW2.

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