Details from Out There


I’ve never really thought of myself as a nature person. Once I slept in a tent about 20 years ago, and I doubt that I’ll do it again any time soon, if given any choice in the matter. I enjoy reading Thoreau, but I wouldn’t want to be Thoreau. But if you think of writers as collectors of detail, which is one possible version, even I have to admit that nature does provide us with some pretty amazing ones.

By some quirk of fate, I find I have a number of good friends who are birders. [To further support my assertion that I am not a nature person, I will tell you that I never knew the word birder until guessing its meaning from context clues tossed to me by these friends.] The beauty of birds escapes me almost every time. From my office window at work or my study window at home, I could easily become a birder, but I decline. I may be permanently jinxed by the fact that my name is that of a bird, Robin.

Since I’m not a nature person, you would probably reason that I’m not a nature poet either. I would certainly concur on that. But in the spirit of "a time & a place for everything," I do find that I enjoy reading poets who tend to find their subject matter in the great outdoors. A. R. Ammons, Mary Oliver, I tend to read them comprehensively. After all, subject matter is simply a starting point, isn’t it?

1 comment

  1. What’s odd to me is that I’m writing about pastoral at the same time as The New York Times Book Review is reviewing several collections of so-called pastoral poetry. In our most quaint self-conceptions, we like to think that we’re the shepards of nature.
    Also, I’m reading Georgio Agamben on the animalization of the human, where he sees the animal as typically being addressed by humans in terms of closedness. Somewhere, amid all of these, there’s a subject.
    Paul Goodman thought humans had a nature, and so one could be occasioned right on the street to see the margins of life in people, as O’Hara was.
    Pastoral, on the other hand, seems to be a literary process. We know it’s going on whenever we’re astride those overlapping terrains of lyric poetry and song. Kenneth Burke says this wonderful thing, which is that pastoral occurs whenever a value is transformed from seeming the least to being the most, or vice versa.
    In American poetry this has often involved just looking at whatever the created world gives us; once we start writing about it, that transvaluation seems to be occuring.

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