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About Geopoetics “Rediscover the Earth, open a world”
What marks this transition period in cultural history, back of all the secondary discourse and all the palaver, is a return to the fundamental, which is to say, the poetic. Every real creation of the mind is, fundamentally, poetic.
The question now is to discover where the most necessary, the most inspiring poetics are to be found, and to apply them.
If, around 1978, I began to talk of “geopoetics”, it was for two reasons. On the one hand, it was becoming more and more obvious that the earth (the biosphere) was in danger and that ways, both deep and efficient, would have to be worked out in order to protect it. On the other hand, I had always been of the persuasion that the strongest poetics come from contact with the earth, from a plunge into biospheric space, from a determined attempt to read the lines of the planet.
The geopoetic project is not one more contribution to the cultural variety show, nor it is a literary school, nor it is concerned with poetry considered as an art of intimacy. It is a major movement involving the very foundations of human life on earth.
In the fundamental geopoetic field come together poets and thinkers of all times and of all countries. To quote only a few examples, in the West, one can think of Heraclitus (“man is separated from what is closest to him”), Hölderlin (“man lives poetically on the earth”), Heidegger (“topology of being”), or Wallace Stevens (“the poems of heaven and hell have been written, it remains to write the poem of the earth”). In the East, there is the taoist Chuang-tzu, the haikuist Matsuo Basho, who was eminently geopoetic in his Road to the Deep North¸ and beautiful world-meditations such as one can find in the Hwa Yen Sutra.
But geopoetics is not the exclusive domain of poets and thinkers. Henry Thoreau was as much an ornithologist and a meteorologist (“inspector of storms”) as he was a poet, or rather, we might say, he included the sciences in his poetics. The link between geopoetics and geography is plain enough, but the link with biology is just as necessary, and with ecology (including mind-ecology) well grounded and well-developed. In fact, geopoetics provides not only a place, and this is proving more and more necessary, where poetry, thought and science can come together, in a climate of reciprocal inspiration, but a place where all kinds of specific disciplines can converge, once they are ready to leave over-restricted frameworks and enter into global (cosmological, cosmopoetic) space.
A whole network can be set in motion, marked by energy, attention, competence and intelligence.
The Atlantic Studio
North Coast Brittany
This was the first, short, “haiku” presentation of geopoetics. For a full account, see Kenneth White’s Mappings, his Le Plateau de l’Albatros and the website (in seven languages) of the Institut International de Géopoétique that he founded in 1989.
Born in Glasgow and raised on the west coast of Scotland, Kenneth White studied languages, literature and philosophy in Glasgow, Munich and Paris. He was first published in London in the mid-60s but broke with the British scene in 1967, settling in Pau, at the foot of the Pyrenees, where he lived in concentrated silence for a while before beginning to publish again, this time in Paris.
His books won not only wide-spread recognition in France, but also some of its most prestigious literary prizes: the Prix Médicis Etranger for his book La Route bleue, the French Academy’s Grand Prix du Rayonnement Français and the Prix Roger Caillois for his work as a whole. In 1979 he brilliantly defended a doctoral thesis on the theme of “intellectual nomadism” before an academic jury (which included Gilles Deleuze) and held the Chair of 20th Century Poetics at the Sorbonne from 1983 to 1996.
His books have been translated into a wide range of languages since the 1970s, and have been largely available in English since the 1980s. His Collected Poems 1960-2000 (Open World) were published by Polygon (Edinburgh), while Edinburgh University Press has just undertaken to publish the complete range of his Collected Works.
Kenneth White has likened his literary activity to an arrow: “the essays, which give direction, are the feathers; the prose-books (waybooks) are the shaft of the arrow; and the poems are the head of the arrow.”
He lives with his wife Marie-Claude, a translator and photographer, on the north coast of Brittany.
Appreciation of Kenneth White
elemental, big and bold
other poet gives us such clarity, openness, purity of spirit, a north of the
soul, a pathless path?
Paz speaks of a silent vanguard, in solitary rebellion against not only the
entrenched establishments but the modernist cliques. It’s to this vanguard that
Kenneth White belongs
REVISTA DE LA UNIVERSIDAD DE MÉXICO
intellectual nomad of genius
Travelling out on his own ways, Kenneth White is bound to appear more and more as the foremost English-language poet of these times
LE NOUVEL OBSERVATEUR, PARIS
A quick selective bibliography of White’s work in English
The Cold Wind of Dawn (London: Jonathan Cape, 1966)
The Most Difficult Area (London: Cape Goliard, 1968)
The Bird Path: collected longer poems (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1989)
Handbook for the Diamond Country: collected shorter poems (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1990)
Open World: the collected poems 1960-2000 (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2003)
Letters from Gourgounel (London: Jonathan Cape, 1966)
Travels in the Drifting Dawn (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1989)
The Blue Road (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1990)
Pilgrim of the Void (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1992)
House of Tides (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2000)
Across the Territories (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2004)
On Scottish Ground (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1998)
Geopoetics: Place, Culture, World (Glasgow: Alba Editions, 2003)
The Wanderer and his Charts (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2004)
On the Atlantic Edge (Dingwall: Sandstone Press, 2006)
Coast to Coast (Glasgow: Open World and Mythic Horse Press, 1996)
Kenneth White’s Collected Works are now in process at Edinburgh University Press. Volumes 1 and 2 have just appeared (2021): Underground to Otherground (narratives) containing Incandescent Limbo, Letters from Gourgounel, Travels in the Drifting Dawn; and Mappings (essays) containing On Scottish Ground, Ideas of Order at Cape Wrath and The Wanderer and his Charts.