Banff – and Topo-poetics

I have the good fortune of being selected for a Writers’ Studio month at the Banff Centre which I am halfway through. It has been an amazingly productive time surrounded by spectacular mountains and 23 other Studio participants who are amazingly talented. I am getting invaluable input from the Studio leaders – the poets Karen Solie, Srikanth Reddy and Suzanne Buffam. The main point is to get close to completing a second collection of poetry. It looks as though this is now two collections – one collection of shorter poems called erratic and one long sequence of more experimental work called Fence Furthest North based on my adventures in Svalbard.

The second purpose of this retreat is to complete the prose section of my PhD in Creative Writing which I am completing under the supervision/mentorship of Jo Shapcott at Royal Holloway. The poems are complete – so just 30,000-40,000 words of exegesis/commentary/theory to complete. I am close. I am working on the introduction (always a sign that things are drawing to a close) defining what I mean by topo-poetics. This will soon emerge as a book – Topo-poetics: Six Poets on Place. The term topo-poetics draws on the Greek topos. I combine its two meanings in Aristotle and after. The first is well known to geographers and means, essentially, ‘location’ or, in later writers, ‘place’. This has been developed through Malpas’ work on Heidegger to a richer notion of engagement with place well beyond location. The second meaning of topos in Aristotle is less well known to geographers and is derived from Aristotle’s rhetoric and refers the correct form in which to make an argument. These two uses are fused in my definition of topo-poetics in which the correct form and a concern with place are mapped on to one another in a geography of the poem as well as geographies in the poem.

This concept is then developed in four poets for the PhD – Elizabeth Bishop, John Burnside, Don McKay and Jorie Graham – with two more to add for the book which I hope to finish this year – probably Lorine Niedecker and Jack Spicer.

In other news – the second edition of Place: A Short Introduction is now with the press and should come out this year. It is now 50% longer and called Place: An Introduction. I am looking forward to seeing the cover soon.

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