7. What is perhaps another necessity for the reclamation of the 'nature poem' is an acknowledgment of the incomprehensibility of our current human position in regards to the wilder and wider ecosystem. There is danger here, for there is always the appeal of the throwing up of hands at systems of enclosure and imprisonment, the immense complexities of the global trade apparatus, and the decimation of ecosystems that aid in and also result from these former hegemonic orders. But to place incomprehensibility at the forefront of one's poetics, especially when writing the ecosystem, is a laudable and difficult path. The poems in Cody-Rose Clevidence's first book, Beast Feast, tread a line between the unintelligible and the intensely tangible, muddling the reader's ability to approach 'nature' by demanding that the intricacies of human relationships to the wider ecosystem be expectorated, be an everlasting effluvia.
in the vulgar landscape appear many small & fractured roots.
in the land there are many flecks of eyes.
to see an object is to relinquish.
the deeds to the land are liars indeed
secedes the eyes. in piles, blinks.
Here, sight of “the vulgar landscape” is given over to the “many flecks of eyes” of its non-human subjects and participants, while the “deeds to the land” as proposed by humans are rightfully deemed untrustworthy. There are many watchers in any landscape that form a sort of surveillance, and our human understanding of this inhuman surround is often based in fear and enclosure rather than respect and stewardship. Thus, capital.
And thus, the poems in Clevidence's book that take the form of long, stalk-like trees of words, disallowing facile reading in their formation of a “language forest.”
Clevidence makes elusive the easy fetishization of so much that is deemed 'nature poetry,' instead forcing the reader to see the trees and the forest, the wild combination of man-made strictures of authority and power (such as police) as well as the metabolisms and dead skin cells that burble as ever underneath the surface of everything, whether man-made or not. Beast Feast is a collection that should be taken as a living organism, but one growing out of a puddled rut on a deep forest path still occasionally marred by ATVs and scattered with shotgun shells.
8. If we are to take the discussion above and apply the Scalapino aphorism that “all times exist separately at once, present-future-past” to the reclamation of the 'nature poem,' then it is necessary that we venture into digital terrain, into a realm of “many flecks of eyes” hooked up to a nightmarish and hallucinogenic array of fiberoptic cables, capturing and projecting images of man-made as well as wilder ecosystems. In Ed Steck's The Garden: Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation, the reader is thrust into a simulated reality that is jarringly like the simulacra that we inhabit:
The past as the present, “previously mirrored chronological instances”— these are moments in the simulated reality that mimic our own. But if “warfare disappears true landscape” and “all nature is a mirage in war,” and if we are ever at war in the self-perpetuating constraints of capitalism, then are our subjective sensory inputs (our observations) mere vectors for furthering the aims of a violent dictatorship of teletechnology? It is this line of querying that lends Steck's work the sort of banal suggestive terror that is rarely found in poetry at all, much less in a poetry that can certainly be considered 'nature poetry,' if one considers a work of imaginally imitative surveillance state logic and logistics to be 'nature poetry.' Given the current situation, I would submit that it is.
9. I write from the crossroads of Wintu and Karuk tribal land, approximately ten miles west of Mt. Shasta, which is the second tallest as well as the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range. Surrounding me are second-growth ponderosa pines, along with stands of occasional outliers, such as Coulter pines (which produce the largest pinecones in the world), giant sequoia, white poplars (which are invasive), silver pines, sugar pines, cedars, and others which I am forgetting in their numerousness. When I walk in the morning, the scent of these trees fills my lungs, and when I drink my coffee on the porch, I can catch salmons and scaley oranges of dawn hitting the cragged summit of Mt. Eddy, further to the west across the valley.
I can also usually hear the chug of a Central Oregon & Pacific or Union Pacific train behind me on the mainline, feel its vibrations in my muscles, hear its horn blast from miles away as it either climbs steadily north up-grade or hurtles south down-grade. Its engines send out the sweet choke of diesel exhaust, which then commingles with the cool, piney air already in my lungs.
Easily enough, if I walk one mile west on forest service roads and use paths through fields of mullein and old hobo camps, the air of the Pilot truck stop will also enter into this internal mixture. From nearly any gas pump or window of the Pilot's structure, one can see Mt. Shasta looming, “lonely as God, and white as a winter moon.” Tourists munch on footlongs from the Subway or chicken fries from Burger King while posing for pictures beneath the mountain, considered one of the most sacred and awe-inspiring in the world.
If I take a somewhat circuitous route back towards the cabin along different forest service roads and paths, I will find myself staring at a hole in the ground where Summit Lake once was, before California's drought and before some rerouting of pipelines by the Crystal Geyser plant approximately two miles north. The lakebed is now scattered with mattresses, and when walking its banks, one often stumbles upon the remains of RVs ravaged by the wilderness and time. Dreams gone bust.
Back near the cabin, I trip on a piece of metal protruding from the ground, remnants of when this land was a junkyard, after its time as a pine farm. Digging in the soil, one can find all manner of faded plastic and metal parts from cars and other motorized vehicles. The largest structure on the land, an enormous and leaky sheet-metal and wood barn, is the most obvious reminder of this past incarnation.
Despite these uglinesses, I can walk a quarter of a mile past the historic water tower (constructed during the days of steam trains, and now covered with decades of hobo grafitti) and come upon the spring that feeds the creek that runs mere yards from where I rest my head. Dipping a cup beneath an ever-flowing bamboo spout, I can drink some of the purest, cleanest water in the United States, arriving from Mt. Shasta's snow melt through lava tubes and underground streams after a multitude of decades.
But why am I writing this?
I am divulging these details and these histories as a sort of conclusion, for while this essay-cum-rant-cum-manifesto will continue to morph and grow, I've found that there is something illustrative about my current surround.
Namely, that this land, like all land in the United States, is drenched in the blood of Indigenous peoples, as a result of the initial colonization of this continent.
The industry surrounding this land is largely extractive— lumber and spring water— and many of the modes of moving these resources around (once they are “products”) were built upon the backs of subjugated peoples, including the Chinese immigrants who helped construct much of the west's railroad system, among others.
The land is in the midst of unspoiled wilderness, yet is pocked by marred sections of human habitation, laziness, and hubris.
The land thus presents itself as an illusion of wilderness, for the excess of capital— a stretch of road taken up entirely by chain restaurants and gas stations and tacky souvenir shops— is ever close at hand. Only those who live in the “'natural' but not 'wild'” densities of urban ecosystems cannot see past this illusion of wilderness.
Yet despite all of this, I step in black bear and coyote shit on a regular basis, and hear the odd howlings of ringtails at night, and am able to wash my face with water that hasn't seen UV light since it melted into its current state. I can walk in forest that has most likely not seen another human visitor in years, if not decades.
The 'nature poem' must be reclaimed to include these depredations, these oppressions, these tragedies enacted by the horrible logic of capitalism. But that doesn't mean that the wild is not extant, that we cannot write poems towards and for the wilderness while simultaneously condemning and damning all the horrible bullshit of this world. The 'nature poem' is necessary, but if it is to remain in its current (and undoubtedly hegemonic) formation, it must be killed and left to fertilize and compost, so that new formations can grow and thrive into more useful, critical, and inclusive iterations. Some of this work is already being done, as evidenced by many of the poets and poems I've mentioned in these notes, but more is necessary, and should be demanded, lest we allow the false chasms between man-made ecosystems and the greater, wilder ecosystems grow larger and even more impossible to bridge.
Ted Rees is the author of several chapbooks, including The New Anchorage (Mondo Bummer 2014) and Outlaws Drift in Every Vehicle of Thought (Trafficker Press 2013). Recent work has appeared in Asphodel, Armed Cell, Elderly, and the Drunken Boat blog. Forthcoming work includes essays on David Wojnarowicz's oeuvre in Tripwire and Compline Editions' monograph on New Narrative, as well as a sequence of new poems in SET. He lives in Weed, California, which is a real place, and wakes up to a gorgeous view of Mt. Shasta every day.