Monday, September 19, 2011

Cole Swensen: Greensward

Greensward, Cole Swensen (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010)

A sumptuous, beautifully designed & illustrated volume with which I'll have to come to terms if I ever actually get around to writing my gardening poetry book. While Swensen's last collection, Ours, focused on the gardens of Versailles, their designer André de Nôtre, and the theory of 17th-century formal gardening, Greensward moves into the 18th century, to the new "English," "natural" gardens of Humphrey Repton and Lancelot "Capability" Brown. (I can think of worse nicknames than "Capability"...) It also moves from an exclusive focus on the interaction of the human being with the landscape to a consideration of the role animals play in landscape gardening – perfectly logically, as the English country estates for which Repton & Brown designed landscapes were working farms & game preserves, with large populations of sheep, cattle, & deer. Where Swensen breaks new & surprising ground is in her exploration of aesthetics & the non-human. An epigraph quotes Dr. Linda Kaplan: "Mainstream science has yet to be convinced that animals have an aesthetic sense." Swensen's poem begins with the observation that, yes, animals do enhance a landscape to its human observers; and proceeds to wonder whether a landscape's manufactured order & beauty might not be perceived as such by animals as well.


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