The good thing about having finished a book is that you can feel free to read what you like, and this summer it has been a very random selection – cookery books, books about trees, a lot of short stories, this historical adventure – the first of a trilogy
and almost everything else that has come across my path – short stories by Colin Will and Tom Kelly, poetry from Lisa Matthews and Matthew MacDonald, who has finally moved from the pamphlet basket to the full collection shelf with Petrichor – all from Red Squirrel Press.
There were some books I wasn’t expecting but have made me think and speculate over the summer: Linda Hogan’s Dwellings, a take on human relations with the environment from the Chickasaw point of view, which I find sits quite well alongside the philosophy of Neill Gunn, whose Atom of Delight and The Drinking Well have kept me busy since April; Eavan Boland’s Journey With Two Maps, discussing the opposition of the traditional (communitarian, formal, a status granted) and the Romantic (original, inspired, solitary) view of the poet, which along with the idea that the appropriate subjects for poetry are the exterior, the sublime, the universal, combine to disallow the feminine perspective and experience, which is often personal, domestic, and focussed on the foreground not grand sweep of the bigger picture. I’m astonished that although I’m only ten years younger than she is, my experience and ideas about poetry are so different, but it’s helping me to analyse why and how that should be.
One thing still seems to be the same, however. It does seem that the stereotypical idea of women’s writing is that it is domestic and personal, and all the changes that have happened since then have not prevented it being dismissed as ephemeral, sentimental or trivial. Four times this summer I have had conversations about the marginalisation of women’s writing on nature. In spite of the success of Kathleen Jamie’s Findings, Miriam Darlington’s Owl Sense, Helen McDonald’s H Is for Hawk and Amy Liptrot’s women are finding their work dismissed as ‘not really about nature, it’s all about their emotions’, or finding themselves excluded from such lists as the one for the Wainwright Prize.
For this reason I was thrilled to find In Her Element, published by a Welsh co-operative Honno Press, an anthology of nature writing by women of all sorts – poets, farmers, hill-walkers or sailors. There does seem to be a need for a serious initiative in this area, and I’m giving it some thought.
People of colour, too, have struggled to find recognition in this area, so I’m particularly pleased to mention the launch of The Willowherb Review, which aims to diversify nature writing. They had a successful Kickstarter campaign and the first issue is due later this autumn.