Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Considered Landscape

The poet Andrew Schelling sent me a wonderful little book that I had never heard of before, THE CONSIDERED LANDSCAPE by the botanist Edgar Anderson (White Pine Press, 1985).  It is a collection of essays that Anderson had originally written for the journal Landscape.  Although he was not a poet and his book was not necessarily geared toward poets, he opens his first essay with a very provocative couple of sentences against the "average" American poet:

Sometimes the American poet lets us down.   He lives and writes in America but in his mind's eye he looks upon an English rather than an American landscape.  Look about you just as spring is passing into summer: look with a clear eye and a critical mind and see if you find the kind of a June the average American poet has been singing of.

Here he describes the power that reading has over the poet, mediating one's experience of the world before one's eyes.  It is the kind of statement that only someone who has spent a long time in the field can make, and it really encourages me to keep getting out and actually seeing what is there.

Many of the pieces in the book consider urban landscapes.  In these essays he is ahead of his time, noting how natural cities are and how wonderful they are for "studies" of human nature, weather, plants, and birds.  He critiques the American tendency to see "nature" outside of cities, and believes that is why cities can be so poorly designed.  

I have always thought that one of the ways to be happy in the City is to pay attention the natural world: the phases of the moon, the migrations, life cycle of trees and weeds, and it was very heartening to find Anderson describing this too:

One can forget one's troubles, and find peace and quiet, and food for thought in the intelligent observation of nature.  It is quite as easy in the city as the country; all one has to do is accept (we are) a part of Nature.

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