The language of landscape never ceases to fascinate me.
I love to look at the atlas of the Tama County, Iowa where I grew up. Waterways have mostly commonplace names as Wolf Creek, Twelve Mile Creek, Salt Creek, Otter Creek, Deer Creek, Pleasant Creek, Four Mile Creek, Coon Creek, Iowa River, Elk Run, Sugar Creek, Raven Creek and Crystal Creek to name some. It is easy to imagine how such names came to be. Wherever I go, I watch for the names of rivers and creeks.
In one of my favorite Elizabeth Bishop poems, “The Moose,” she names the Bass River, and Tantramar marshes with which she associates the smell of salt hay.
In her poem, “Life Story,” Mary Oliver tells us she lived by Little Sister Pond. Often in her writing she identifies the landscape.
As you know the language of landscape goes well-beyond place names. In her poem “Field Guide for Wildlife Clinics”, Janisse Ray reminds readers of the landscape she has roamed with such words and phrases as “Boreal forests”, “Eastern deciduous slopes”, …”The relief of waves lapping a beach.” And at greater length from the poem “Noticing”. “The bay recedes, abandoning more of its red-pebbled beach, leaving rocks blanketed with orange seaweed. Notice how, back along the cliff, white asters with gold disks bloom in pockets of loose mineral, and the strange branched milkweed hangs with frittalaries (She likely means a lily-like flower)
The place of the title of the poem quoted below is in Yorkshire England where the writer, an Iowa native who became a resident of the northeast and a well-known poet, clearly spent some time. The flyleaf of her Collected Poems of Amy Clampitt reminds us her themes are often place and displacement. “She wrote with lasting and deep feeling about all sorts of landscapes – the prairies of her Iowa childhood, the fog-wrapped coast of Maine, and places she visited in Europe.”
From “At Muker, Upper Swaledale”
As Muker Beck aswirl, hurtling
to enter the River Swale: peat-
dark in spate, hour by hour
engorged with braidings, with
sheeted seethings of rainfall
fallen yet again: the trickle
of the damp’s wrung increment
down limestone’s fluted hollows
(buttertubs is what the locals
call them) that pock the pass
along the road to Askrigg––
Authors whose work is quoted and who write lovingly of the landscape include: Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, Janisse Ray and Amy Clampitt.
Novelists also use the language of landscape effectively, but since April is Poetry Month, it seems the time to focus on the poets.
I encourage you to read any of these poets as they bring to life the world around us. Some poems from these authors can usually be found on the internet by using your browser. April an appropriate month to investigate these writings. Some of these landmarks may not always be with us. This seems so here in America.
I’m especially enjoying some of Clampitt’s work this month. I hope you’ll seek her out, or any of the others that interest you. Perhaps you have another poet whose writing about landscape you want to bring to our attention. Thank you for doing so.
Note: I originally worked on this post for the writing page of this blog, but I am so revived by reading some of the poetry in preparation, most particularly Amy Clampitt, that I decided to post this on the home page. Though I can’t say I remember ever meeting Ms. Clampitt, two of her brothers and their families were friends of my Dad’s and they often met at regional fairs where they and my father both showed their prize Milking Shorthorn Cattle. While Amy Clampitt probably did not forget she was the child of pioneer Iowa farmers, much of her writing is about other places she called home, and places she visited in her extensive travels.