Cathleen Cortlett

In considering themes recently encountered in a sample of contemporary poetry selected for me by the editor of this folio, I have been shown many versions of the same scene- a fractured thought somehow connecting, reflecting our many perceptual frames, disjointed yet somehow still belonging to the same plot, belonging to the same outline of flow, the same emotional trajectory or dream state.

When compared to times less complex, or historically interpreted, therefore reachable, our world of the workaday has gone superatomic in terms of technological overload – frying the circuits of the more sensitive among us, until we run like Thoreau back to sanity, to all that is quietly invisible around us: The existence of the world of ecological and biological relationships and processes going on concurrent to this self-perpetuating madness we take for granted as reality.

Existing just outside of this false assumption, these poems gently tap the brain, and take the reader gently over into another world that is shown to exist more truly and fully behind the now-shrunken husk of an outgrown approach to getting what we need from the fruit-tree of the world.  The same tree that we have our homes in, our cars and computers and fantasies and individual plotlines and love stories.

The monkey of course when encountered reminds me of our future existence as primates, or even as some other well-adapted future species- This potential is to be seen in our relationships with other species, especially non-domestic species, our relationship to wildness, and in how we choose to obey or disobey the natural laws governing ecological, meteorological and hydrological systems.

Our perception of the landscape around us as more than greenery or shrubbery, more than an irrigated garden for our visual enjoyment, but instead as THE primary relationship essential to our species’ survival – this idea is a catalyzing agent in the developmental spiral that would lead us up and out of this particular valley.  We will emerge at last out onto the ridge, where we watch our long shadows at sunrise on the longest day of the year, all of our shadows, as we stand there together aligned like infinitely tall stalks of corn, or gnomons, each of us no more significant than one of the individual meadow grasses, each of us surrounded immersed in a light clear soup of particles, pollen, the everpresent love bath of earth. And as we walk our original emergence becomes clear in the split or intertwining path, both in reference to the emotional strength of a primary pair bond and that of a DNA spiral: We are each and all essentially just Tuarine, Adenine, Guanine Cytosene, simply a very complex balance of four amino acids, eternally recombining, self creating, human snowflakes. 
Biologically we cannot separate our cells from the biosphere, the air, We are he and her and anonymously unanimous in our shared experience. We as a species are cosmopolitan as duckweed, our global mark not found in pre-historic core samples: certain radioactive elements, caffeine, DDT.  These worldwide organic molecules tell us all we really need to know about the late twentieth century and early Twenty-first. A fearful and terrible juncture: The scientists agree we must immediately strive to reverse the imbalance in the global systems. And what can one person do about it in the face of runaway technology, corporate personhood; the persistent seduction of sectarianism; nationalism, the myth of patriarchic dominance? 

Exposure to the arts like a sodium iodide pill, prevents absorption of a toxic level of cynicism- The poems remind us that although the world is going to hell it is also doing its best to go back to paradise, in the most sincere sense, in the weeds along the railroad tracks, the howl of a train the ensuing rumbles- The plants in their way are devoted the question of how to live and keep living at all costs. Because “costs” are meaningless and certainly not optional when what is at question are the bio-ecological systems that sustain the balance of life. We must of course revise our economic and social systems to foster the nourishment of these systems, processes, relationships.

The most powerful of design forms derive from universally self-generating patterns that reach beyond style. Here lie the roots of organic architecture discovered by Frank Lloyd Wright, the parabolas of Gaudi, Bucky’s domes, Saarinen’s whale- But architecture alone is not the solution. The experience of a three-dimensional space may inspire us to feel or perceive differently, but without catalyzing a positive effect on its social and ecological context, a mere form experiment will always exist within and therefore be limited by the mad culture of the time. 

More eternal, and beyond the reach of our covetous fascination with graceful structures as objects in space is the shape of space itself on all scales: Cellular space, material space made up of universal cymatics- the nested hierarchies of fractal and chaotic patterns derived by the vibrational intersection of multiplied molecular processes and relationships. If we seek to understand these forms born of process, and the flows of human needs, certain natural efficiencies and scale-relationships emerge. A pattern language for healthy engagement is the holy grail, the only adequate answer, which we are all free to devote ourselves to:

Those on the fringes might have felt the zeitgeist first, or best, but it is up to the rest of us to decide what our response is to be- Simply owning an artist or visionary’s work will not serve the underlying principle any better than a zoo saves an animals habitat.  And equally, joining a movement or a style puts one at risk of not taking personal responsibility for this choice- How will you participate in the world we know we need to make visible?


Out here there’s no property line visible, yet these woods are perceptibly domesticated. You can feel how abusively and roughly they have been treated, how greedily ransacked when there could be enough life-sustaining energy and materials here to regenerate for millions of years. The forests are no longer sacred, the oceans are no longer limitlessly fruitful.   The earth has been intersected by fiber-optic cable, her body has been opened up and artificial nerve systems connected with eyes in space. 

Essentially we are in a time of global narcissism- In order to avoid confronting the mysterious void we stare at glowing screens that show us pictures of ourselves and we construct elaborately “natural”  artificial environments that get in the way of the elemental connection with our shared biology that would save us.

We disregard the fact of our universal cellular existence to our peril- the spatial dynamics of boundaries, existing as we see or do not see them, at all scales, in urban and non-urban ecologies, Indoor and outdoor, edges, ecotones, gradients, thresholds both gradual and absolute, everywhere there are membranes, both permeable and semi-. 

We live within our body boundaries, skin, integument and gut, related by those amino acids to the jellyfish and on back to the earliest multicellular feeding tube.  And of course we inevitably let our first consciousness in its non-stop cellular work remind us of sex, and it comes out in the artists’ work, more references to sexual sex than and asexual, but that is to be expected and forgiven - These are the basic themes, boundaries or non-boundaries, sex or not sex, eternally fascinating, built in.

Sometimes the boundaries are virtual and semi- imaginary, as in the typical front yard gate, mediating social dynamics with a hinge.  Then there are the legal lines, easements and other real but also imaginary concepts, more recent to this landscape. They put me in mind of a futuristic time when they will be entirely unenforceable, as evanescent as a dream or fantasy.  The last remaining vestiges will be the long rows of Oleanders guiding future fauna where once was freeway.