Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Kenneth White: Landscape Poet

The first time I heard of Kenneth White I was instantly sceptical. Kenneth, a Glasgow-born Ayrshireman, had been Professor of 20th Century Geopoetics at the Sorbonne. That title alone was enough to put me off. And then I read this in the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics:
Geopoetics looks for signs of those who have attempted to leave 'the motorway of Western civilisation' in the past in order to find a new approach to thinking and living e.g. in the writings of intellectual nomads such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Rimbaud, Henry Thoreau and Patrick Geddes... It also seeks to express that sensitive and intelligent contact with the world by means of a poetics i.e. a language drawn from a way of being which attempts to express reality in different ways e.g. oral expression, writing, visual arts, music, and in combinations of different art forms.
My bullshit meter was going into overdrive. He had been recommended to me, but I had little time for such unplain speaking.

It was only later, after a conversation with someone else about Kenneth White's merits (or in my view, demerits), that I decided I should really read some of his poems so that I knew what I was dismissing. So I found myself speed-reading his anthology Open World when I was suddenly brought up short by this:

A late afternoon in Govan
at the junction of the Clyde and Kelvin
rain falling on sullen stone

floating on the dark, dank waters
one lone mute swan.


And later, this:

A scurry of red leaves
and the wind passes over
rippling the stream
the wind is all around
but only stray gusts enter
the wood's dark centre
enter and are gone -
only scurrying leaves
and the rippled stream.


I am still not convinced by the concept of geopoetics. I am probably too British in outlook to be comfortable with the French-style intellectualism White wears on his sleeve. But as a landscape poet, Kenneth White hits the spot. I find that his spare style, lacking rhymes, is easy for me to emulate - unlike that of, say, Liz Lochhead. Do you know what? I think he is my new inspiration. I have decided to walk the length of the Dee, from Braeriach to Aberdeen Harbour, and write a poem about it...

Dipper flash
Pine sap
rushing water -
simple joy

1 comment:

Alistair said...

thanks for that, really nice. Will read up on him. The first stanza is very Haiku-ish, lovely