Tuesday, October 10, 2006

lilies and thunder

As anyone who knows me realises, I'm not a one for any common or garden poetry anthology, but I picked up one today which is quite intriguing. It's called The Thunder Mutters: 101 Poems for the Planet edited by British poet Alice Oswald. The fact that its selections are from poets such as Ashbery, Marinetti, Ponge, Popa, Beckett and Bunting as well as Auden, Hopkins, Clare, Heaney and Burns as well as the prolific Anon, is of interest.

I suppose you could call it an anthology of 'nature' poetry. I am always wary of the concept of 'nature' - I ask 'what is natural?' and then get into political debates, or wonder why people point at 'nature' away from human. Nonetheless, I was interested in the 'ecopoetics' of this selection. And the more obvious anthology pieces (say 'God's Grandeur' or excerpts from 'Leaves of Grass') work along with Aboriginal song cycle poems. Or John Barleycorn, as interesting as any a work of ecopoetics ('They've ploughed, they've sown, they've harrowed him in ...').

Oswald says that she's preferred 'restless poems ... At their best they work like little lists, little heaps of self-sufficient sentences that keep the poems open to the many-centred energies of the natural world’ and that there are 'no prospect, pastorals or nostalgic poems'. This listy, cumulative approach, as well as the many old songs, works as a kind of rough litany, if not elegy, for the planet.

It sends me back to a funny old volume someone picked up at a sale for me. It's called 'The Poetry of Earth: A Nature Anthology', published by George G. Harrap and Sons, with no editor named nor date given. It's a hard cover with foxed pages and a frontispiece portrait of Wordsworth. It contains a lot of mixed poetry and prose excerpts from the likes of Emerson, Wordsworth, Ruskin, Sir Walter Scott, Longfellow, George Eliot, 'Mrs' Browning (this shows its age) and Marlowe as well as a lot of names I am not familiar with. For all its worthy post-Victorian flavour, I quite like to browse there as well. And to be reminded of even this: 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.'

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