John Kinsella: On Nature Writing

31 October 2011

I consider myself a writer of the environment - an ethically and politically motivated writer who perceives each poem, each text I write, as part of a resistance against environmental damage.

John Kinsella, author of Armour, responds to being considered a "nature poet" and tells us his thoughts on "nature writing".


I have been described, on occasion, as a ‘nature poet’. I want to state, once again, that I am not a nature poet, nor a ‘nature writer’, in any way. As I said in a recent interview with Overland regarding this matter: 
  
  "I detest ‘nature writing’. I consider myself a writer of the environment - an ethically and  politically motivated writer who perceives each poem, each text I write, as part of a resistance against environmental damage. ‘Nature writing’ as a concept is too tied up with validating the relationship with the (Western!) notion of self, of egotistical sublime, of the gain the self has over the ‘nature’ s/he is relating to. This privileging is a problem. Which is not to say I have a problem with the inevitabilities of the anthropomorphic, if that necessarily brings about greater respect for ‘nature’ than would arise without it. So once again, it’s relative."

Thing is, it is out of my respect for ‘nature’ that I feel so strongly about its fetishisation in ‘nature writing’. Poetry as environmental activism, sure. Poetry that tries to respect ‘nature’, sure. Poetry that problematises the human-nature equation in terms of culture and ecology (for which there is no pat ‘solution’!), sure. But...

And here’s a poem of mine from many years back that states my position most clearly:



Graphology 300: Against “Nature Writing”

Nature writing equals the new racketeering.
Nature writers make good use of plane travel and restaurants serving up nature.
Nature writing equals recognition as gratification.
Nature writers wear tough boots and mark their trail out hiking. They need to get back. They drive cars.
Nature writing equals the house in good order for the property owner. The sub-textual paths past the native garden beds are called ecology.
Nature writers grow at least a little of their own food. Or would if they could.
Nature writing equals the woods sans Macbeth. Possibly sans witches.
Nature writers get as close as they can to the birds, soaking up their natures.
Nature writing equals a separation in order to get closer — almost everyone can do it, if they see the light.
Nature writers are those who make the choice to step out of their front doors and breathe in the fresh air, or declare that it’s time to move to where it’s fresher.
Nature writing equals — not — pastoral and needs no bucolics to play out the hierarchies — it lives outside the narrative. It favours local picnics — best if the animals don’t even know one’s there.
Nature writers who are academics get paid for the conscience — administratively, at least, it’s called eco-criticism.
Nature writing equals the recognition that poisoned flesh and cellulose are not good to eat — support your local organic market.
Nature writers have, in the very least, a hidden spirituality.
Nature writing equals market-place economies.
Nature writers know that economy and ecology share the same prefix and have thought long and hard about this.
Nature writing equals quiet time following field excursions to get it down — preferably, a hut in the forest, a writing retreat. The keeping of like-minded company, occasionally hearing the birds tweet. Seeing a kangaroo, bear, or antelope, a double treat.
Nature writers get angry with consumerism — don’t giggle.
Nature writing equals space for tokenism but makes good use of natural colouring to bury it.
Nature writers know that via the Indo-European, gwei is to live, with metathesized variant striking a colourant, an accord with the weather outside their window, concordance with weather within: birds quiet without, a blowfly annoying within. Quick, vivid, vitamin, whiskey, amphibious, microbe, and hygiene all derive from this living, this high-life we all live, though most are more interested in the suffixed zero-grade form *gwi-o-. bio-, biota, biotic; aerobe, amphibian, anabiosis, cenobite, dendrobium, microbe, rhizobium, saprobe, symbiosis, from Greek bios, life (> biot, way of life), according to American Heritage, or Variant form *gwy- (< *gwyo-). 1. azo-; diazo, hylozoism, from Greek zo, life. 2. Suffixed form *gwy-yo-. zodiac, –zoic, zoo-, zoon1, –zoon, from Greek zon, zion, living being, animal; ultimately, though, they prefer nature to say bios or gwei for it declares nation, heritage, identity, it declares a place for the righteous, the knowing, the in touch, the separate. They don’t wish to be part of any club you’re a member of.
Nature writing equals overlays and underlays, carpets the best rooms in pile soothing to the feet. It shows real pleasure is in the walking.
Nature writers know as much proper-naming as they have time to accumulate.
Nature writing equals not being read by those land-clearing, or the contrary.
Nature writers want to look wherever something has been set aside. Attrition.
Nature writing equals targeting cats, not people.
Nature writers can be hunters or animal-rights activists.
Nature writing equals landmarking and wishing on a bird during war.
Nature writers become more animal by eating animals.
Nature writing equals the separation of the grotesque from the healing.
Nature writers are inspired, searching for intactness, and patient. They have time up their sleeves.
Nature writing equals the vicarious, equals verisimilitude, equals carving out a niche in the schema, in the pleasant picture.
Nature writers aren’t saving Mount Bakewell, don’t take on farmers with shotguns, will make do at a pinch with non-organic produce, are a bunch of fucking hypocrites.
Nature writing is a departmental party trick.

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