“Geography is the key, the crucial accident of birth. A piece of protein could be a snail, a sea lion, or a systems analyst, but it had to start somewhere. This is not science; it is merely metaphor. And the landscape in which the protein “starts” shapes its end as surely as bowls shape water.”
― Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
Good day, poets! I hope you are enjoying pleasant weather in your part of the world. I love the month of March over here when it is neither too cold nor too hot. It’s a temporary reprieve before the summers. Also, the sky is as blue as it comes (despite the burgeoning pollution of this city) and the evening colours are as expansive and brilliant as the ones on a Hussain painting. The sound of kids playing on the streets, the stray dogs barking with a certain gusto, the food sellers calling out for anyone who would buy their fare, a distant cry, a passing car with a Bollywood track on blast, et al complete this picture of familiarity with both its sensory decadence and relative simplicity.
This is Anmol (alias HA) and I would like all of you to consider the geography in poetry today and how its elements can be emulated in a creative manner in the verses. Personally, I believe that it is the geography of where I stay as well as where I grew up which has moulded me to a certain extent. As a result of that, I find this relationship between people and their environments so compelling. Both the physical and human features of geography can tell a story of a place and its people and particularly define how anthropological activities have a widespread impact on the planet at large. This is something that requires more discussion and action today since climate change is perhaps turning out to be the most significant event of this century.
Let’s read a variety of poems on geography and take inspiration by understanding the many different ways that this theme can be addressed in poetry. When we talk about geography in poetry, the first thought that comes to my mind is that of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It has been suggested in this thesis that more than 50 percent of the titles in Leaves of Grass have something or the other to do with geography. Now, that is a very interesting thematic element and reading through Leaves of Grass makes it quite true. Here’s Mannahatta, for your perusal:
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name.
Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient,
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and steamships, an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies,
Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown,
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining islands, the heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d,
The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business, the houses of business of the ship-merchants and money-brokers, the river-streets,
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week,
The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses, the brown-faced sailors,
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing clouds aloft,
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the river, passing along up or down with the flood-tide or ebb-tide,
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d, beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the shops and shows,
A million people—manners free and superb—open voices—hospitality—the most courageous and friendly young men,
City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!
City nested in bays! my city!
One of the most beautiful components of geography is certainly maps. Their artistry combined with their science seems to bring together the entirety of species, landforms, and natural environment into a mesh network that defines how we have lived through the ages. If you love maps as much as I do, here’s an excerpt for you from The Map by Elizabeth Bishop:
Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves’ own conformation:
and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.
While browsing for about a week in search of exciting poems that are based on the geography of a place, I ended up discovering a poet I had not read before: A.R. Ammons. And I was so impressed by his mastery in humour, science, and wry existentialism, all of which are so concrete in Cascadilla Falls:
I went down by Cascadilla
stream below the falls,
and picked up a
kidney-shaped, testicular and
thought all its motions into it,
the 800 mph earth spin,
the 190-million-mile yearly
displacement around the sun,
of the galaxy with the 30,000
mph of where
the sun’s going:
thought all the interweaving
into myself: dropped
the stone to dead rest:
the stream from other motions
rushing over it:
to the sky and stood still:
not know where I am going
that I can live my life
by this single creek.
There were many other poems to choose from and it was such a delight reading through them all. Some notable ones include 35° S 5° W by Alan Gould, Auden’s As I Walked Out One Evening, and Into the Dusk-Charged Air by John Ashberry.
For The Tuesday Poetics, I am, therefore, asking you all to explore geography in your poems. There are different ways of going about it — you can explore and inculcate the various subjects that are a part of the study of geography like meteorology, climatology, ecology, environment, culture, population, development, and human-nature relationship; you can write about your city/state/province/region; you can combine different elements and ideas and map out your own geography of who you are and where you stand, etc. It’s quite open-ended and I hope you all would have a lot of fun writing on this theme. Once you have published your poem, add it in the linking widget down below and do not forget to visit and read others and share your thoughts with them. I wish you a wonderfully poetic week ahead. See you on the trail!