“I became aware of place in two ways: Place as place in the sense of a specific geographical physical manifestation, and place as suggestive of abstract ideas and notions- which is not to say place as a space on a map, that is something else, I don’t think that really creeps into poetry. But place can creep into poetry as an abstract notion.”
In our recent interviews with Tabish Khair and Jeet Thayil, we were treated to two fascinating conversations about the relationship between place and poetry. Central to both discussions was the premise that, for both writers, place was clearly more than a physical location on a map. Four walls and a roof may be described as both a “house” and a “home”, but in the latter description those four walls and roof take on many extra levels of meaning. Equally, India is a country bordering Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Burma; but “India” also represents an ideology, a culture, and, perhaps most importantly, a home.
Jeet Thayil also discusses “The city that you live in in your head”, implying place can be thought about as a set of ideas, rather than just a geographical location. And this isn’t a school of thought unique to poetry. Who after all, can watch the landscapes of America portrayed in the 1969 film Easy Rider, without connecting them to the idealised freedoms of the “American Dream”? Or more recently, in her 2010 album Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom sees place as inseparable from emotion, and indeed, inseparable from herself: ‘but if you come and see me, in California,/ you cross the border of my heart.’
In fact, the more you think about it, the more places become emotions and ideas, and less geographical locations marked by maps.
As Tabish indicates, place can inspire poetry, but on Global Poetry System, we’ve also found plenty of examples of poetry inspiring place. It’s even turning up on neurotic rocks:
Keep your eyes peeled and see what poetry you can find on the places near you. Or perhaps try writing your own poem about a place that means something to you. Whatever you do, remember to upload it to the Global Poetry System website afterwards so the world can enjoy it.
Joanna Newsom is performing at Southbank Centre on the 11th and 12th of May, and works by both Tabish Khair and Jeet Thayil can be found in the Poetry Library here at Southbank Centre.
Global Poetry System is a user-generated world map of poetry. Upload poems and explore the map here.