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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Between Land and Sky: The Poetics of Geography

We are all the consequence of history. And here history lives as an echo on the face of strangers lounging in city parks; children riding bikes down a mountain road; a woman hanging wash on a line threaded between two iron poles; two voices whispering in the dark. Here experience and landscape converge. The urban world of freeway cars and tract houses and billboards strung with a dozen neon lights which almost casually draws a line across the throat of wilderness; and we must simultaneously remember and forget who we are and where we have come from.

 I live in this Arizona desert landscape, bordered on three sides by the wide sky and on the other  by a ridge of biting sunlight.  I am a woman born on the edges of the Atlantic, whose blood runs at odd moments, all the way back to Spain, then Italy; then the New World.
   
The poems I bring to my creative writing and literature students are ones that speak to them of their own sense of place in the world. The poems my students seem to crave are ones that help them to survive in the landscape of their lives and which articulate the geography of their present.  Sometimes these are the poems that are famous and fall into the classical cannon, such as the works of Shakespeare, Dickinson, Browning, and Eliot.

Sometimes the works of contemporary poets--writers who are firmly fixed in this place--are what my students want and need. They understand the poetry of paradoxical landscape: the urban world in which most of us find ourselves is a "place" in which we are aware that we live as part of nature as well as being a force that is against nature.

For those of us living in the American southwest, this dual sensation is like standing in the desert and hearing the voices of those who may have crossed this barren track of land thousands of years ago while imagining those who, if the extravagance of "for sale" signs are to be believed, will inhabit the land within the next six months. We must be aware of two sets of distinct realities, the end product of which, oftentimes, becomes an odd sense of displacement. 

Perhaps our own history has--if we dared be honest with ourselves--dislocated our imagination. And if we were really brave, the questions we might ask of ourselves are these:  When will we re-enter the landscape of our imagination? What drove us from it in the first place? How does our sense of physical place influence our perception of the world? Does gender affect one's imagination? Does race? Class? If so, how? In what ways?

Who or what will guide us back to our own imaginations?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Profoundly beautiful, Lois. We are so much in need of thinkers, poets, who can ask these questions and coach us as we seek answers.

Lois Roma-Deeley said...

Thanks you. I believe, firmly, that poetry leads us to bigger thinking--about ourselves, our world and, most importantly, about what is possible.

Anonymous said...

it is inspiring to have a philosopher like you, Lois, pique my imagination and tweak my brain. to have one's thinking probed, to have "larger" concepts suggested, is live and thrive in the most delightful sense.

Lois Roma-Deeley said...

One of my goals for this space is to suggest to contemporary readers that poetry is reaching towards them in a vibrant way. Poetry--if I can use this metaphor--is lonely for their company. By extension of that thought, I would like readers to consider that Poetry needs their attention. So thank you for your comments and your thoughts.