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,

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sacred Places

Are places sacred in their own right or do they become sacred when we (humans) develop an emotional relationship with them?

The poet and deep ecologist Gary Snyder quotes a Native American elder as saying, 'if people stay somewhere long enough - even white people - the spirits will begin to speak to them. It's the power of the spirits coming from the land. The spirits and the old powers aren't lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the spirits will begin to influence them.' (Crow elder, cited in Snyder, 1990).

Do spirits of place reveal themselves at first glance or does it take a while to get to know a place, its contours, its moods, its colours, its habitats and inhabitants? Every time I connect with the riverplace, there is something more to see, more to learn. About beauty, about the movement of the tides, about the creatures who dwell along the river valley and about the river.

Today as I looked up at the sky shimmering through the leafy canopy I spied a raven flying in with a long slice of grass in its beak. Its partner was waiting on a branch sitting on a half-constructed nest. The nest was situated towards the end of the limb and seemed not to be as positioned as well as it could be to withstand the stormy weather that has been part of Brisbane for the last couple of days. But despite rain on and off during this time the soil beneath the surface is still very very dry.

The birds were frolicking around the house today as well. Nest building and family building. A Kookaburra flew in. It sat near the backdoor and waiting patiently for a feed. Ravens, Butcher Birds, Currawongs and Magpies joined the feast. Living with wildlife is one of the joys of this place. But the rush to cut down 'bird houses' (read trees) is fast and furious. Loving a place one risks having one's heart broken.

Snyder G, 1990, The Practice of the WIld, Berkeley, North Point Press.