Saturday, October 13, 2007

Poetics of Place

Terry Tempest Williams writing about her beloved American South West uses the expression 'poetics of place' to illustrate her relationship to the desertscape and her home state of Utah. 'Poetics of place' can be defined as 'a way of understanding (or seeking to understand) the undefinable, immeasurable qualities of the places we inhabit in everyday life' (Smiley, 2000). Williams incorporates this understanding weaving it into her breathtaking nature writing and ecopolitical disourse.

In a radio interview with Scott London in Utah, Williams explains that: 'As a writer, I believe that it is our task, our responsibility, to hold the mirror up to social injustices that we see and to create a prayer of beauty'. As a Mormon Williams is deeply aware of the links between her religious upbringing and her ecological awareness explaining that she feels 'deeply connected, not only because of my Mormon roots, which are five or six generations, but because of where we live. There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not mindful of the spiritual sovereignty that was sought by my people in coming to Utah.'

Being committed to place, she believes, gives us a sense of intimacy with the natural world, so we get to know the creatures, their names, their habits and are witness to any changes or damage that might occur.

My intention to connect with the river is to document two perspectives, one is getting to know this place, the other is getting to know the changes that take place - the changing colours of the water, the effect of drought on the surrounding terrain, the patterns of bird movement including the widespread nesting of myriad species. Each day I check on the great mound of the Brush Turkey and watch the care with which the resplendent male monitors the heat of his egg's earthy refuge by covering the mound with soil or digging it away. I explore the tree trunks and see how many tree hollows are populated by dozens of different members of the parrot family and marvel at the tiny tunnel dug into the mud along the river bank by the tiny pardalotes.

Being familiar with place, says Williams, is like being familiar with another person 'where there is no need to speak, but simply to listen, to perceive, to feel' (London, 2007). Feel the river, breathe the muddy aroma from the rain-soaked earth, listen to the birdsong ring out across the river and write the poetry of the wind.

London S, 2007, The Poetics of Place: An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams, In A Voice in the Wilderness: Conversations with Terry Tempest Williams, Utah State University Press (2006),
Smiley S, 2000, The Poetics of Place,