Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Landscapes Imagined Before Man - Chris Hart

What did places look like
before they were
over run run over
by and with

Diverted rivers?  Where would you run,
river if you ditched the irrigation
into which you were forced?
Forest, were you once plain?

Plainly, all I know
as I look over the patchwork farms
geometrically growing before me
is that the mountain has been there all along,
looking over the silly people
or not
with their temporary homes,
chimneys lightly sighing smoke,
briefly appearing
on the gentle slopes
of a green valley.

Is it egotistical to share my own poetry and analyze it on my own blog?  Probably, but no one's going to stop me.  I've no delusions of being a good poet, but I keep writing the stuff anyways, so may as well share some!  I rarely share my poems, not because I think they're bad, but because I think people couldn't possibly be interested in them.  I hope it does not bore, dear reader!

A thought I often have, particularly as I walk among places where nature and humankind are in sharp contrast, is "What did this place look like before people were here?"  It's tantalizing to imagine a landscape untouched, because there are very few of those, if any that are truly untouched left on the whole planet.  There are, however, many gorgeous landscapes that bear the mark of man.  For me personally, I've been thinking of this idea ever since I came to Korea.  In my town here, there is a mountain, not terribly tall or grand, but distinctive nonetheless, a constant and permanent feature of the landscape.  Apparently, about two thousand years ago, there was a minor kingdom in this part of Korea, the Jomun Kingdom.  They lived on the plains at the foot of this mountain, and the mountain appeared to hold some sort of quasi-religious reverence among them.  It was said that anyone creating their family's burial mound on the slopes of the mountain would be rich beyond measure, but doom everyone else in the area to terrible drought.

This is still a very rural area of Korea, with small patchwork farms scraping out livings all along the river.  In part of my town, the river runs through a man-made channel, for irrigation.  Where did it run before that?  Were there forests, or were these farmlands always plains?  What mark has man made geographically?  What did it look like before we came and settled?

In terms of poetic functions, I tried to keep a fairly steady flow coupled with wordplay and punning.  Word pairs like "forced/forest, plain/plainly, over run run over" are meant to keep things moving, and to set up some light puns, and to make the poem fun to read out loud.  Apart from those, I sought to use alliteration rather than rhyme to give the poem distinct features.  As much as I enjoy rhyme in poems that aren't mine, I never feel like I can rhyme things very naturally.  I'm comfortable with some slant rhymes, like "smoke/slopes" but that was an unintended consequence of my diction.  Unless I am willing to strongly commit to a formal structure from the poem's outset, I don't think deliberate rhyme makes sense.

I hope as a thought experiment, this has been valuable!  I know I've enjoyed looking with scrutiny at one of my own works, even if I'm not fully convinced it has value.  I do enjoy reading it out loud, though, and I am proud of a few of the turns of phrase ("geometrically growing") as I feel they provide a vivid image of the way humans spread and conquer a landscape with their funny little farms and lives.


  1. I've often wondered about what the lake George area looked like before European settlers arrived as I paddle my kayak there. I've liked to imagine that the surrounding hills, silhouetted just before dawn with low hanging clouds clinging to their slopes, were the same as native Americans saw them from their Birch bark canoes on a similar morning some five hundred years earlier. I wonder if they imagined similar thoughts then?

  2. Did you ever run around Fort Lee Va?
    Dream of having an off day,
    To Play music at the local store?
    Talk some poetry with a battle buddy?