"Each poem indicates a place, perhaps amounting to one place through the whole book, perhaps a new place with each poem, perhaps a place only a few inches away from the previous place, or several miles. Items of vocabulary point to Scotland (skerry, lochan, bolabhal etc.) and to wild countryside - then not wild but not metropolitan either. The place is given in a detail, often but not necessarily a natural detail, and from this true thing the writing progresses through the poem or a bunch of them, towards a different kind of truth. A truth of detail leads to a truth of thought."
- Peter Riley, PN Review No 217
Friday, 12 December 2014
A generation ago, it was reasonably well understood among artists that art placed in the landscape should accord with an ethic of minimal intervention, that the work should intrude as little as possible into its environment. This is a scruple that is now almost entirely forgotten, having been ignored or brushed aside by artists.
Even art which flaunts its ‘green’ credentials, maybe particularly such art, will rear up or stand out conspicuously from its surroundings to draw attention to itself.
An art that persuades people to turn their backs on the landscape in order to admire the art cannot claim to be ecological friendly.
If the work keeps faith with minimal intervention, then art may occasionally be situated in the landscape, on the understanding that it will redirect attention away from itself back onto its surroundings.
But the situation is no different when it comes to writing, in prose or poetry. Although there is no material intrusion on the scene, the same self-centredness is often at work: instead of looking out from the writing, using the writing as an exploratory device, we are invited to admire the writing itself. What purports to be a homage to a particular landscape frequently turns out to be another display of sensibility or of writerly skill.
Just as the use of natural materials is no guarantee that art will be environmentally sensitive, so references to the natural world are not enough to qualify prose or poetry as a form of “pastoral”.