Writer and philosopher (if I may so describe him) Jim Murdoch has recently blogged on Calder Wood Press author Marion McCready‘s new pamphlet, Vintage Sea. Part two of his posting is a detailed and thoughtful interview with Marion and it has raised several issues which resonate with me. I’ll specifically discuss ‘nature poetry’ here. Marion has a fascinating idea which I will quote here: For me, nature is very much a metaphor for something other than what it is.
That’s a very difficult concept for me to follow. I’d rather turn it around and say that in my view the way metaphor is often used is an inadequate, inaccurate and over-simplistic way of describing the natural world. It frequently and misleadingly adds layers of confusion and misunderstanding between ‘what’s out there’ and how we perceive it. And yet, due to the limitations of our senses and of our understanding, it’s often the only way we have to express the complexity of the world.
At the most fundamental level, mathematics is the language which most accurately describes reality, but it’s not the language in which poetry is written. We use words as descriptors to define things, concepts, ideas, ourselves and our actions. But words are at best a partial parallel to reality, and they are subject to modification, reinterpretation and change, as our world view evolves over time. Back in the day, I used cluster and co-citation analysis of words in geological publications to map the paradigm shift which plate tectonics brought to earth sciences. It’s the same in biology; we can’t go back to a pre-Darwinian view of the biological world, because evolutionary understanding is part of our intellectual tool kit.
In my own writing I don’t make a separation between ‘nature poetry’ and the other subjects I write about, although I will admit that some focus more than others on the natural world than on other aspects of reality. But where I do describe the natural world I try to be as careful with my facts as I can be, within the dominant paradigms of physics, chemistry, biology or earth sciences I might be writing about. If that comes out as nature poetry, then so be it.