A Vision Realized: Still Dwelling After All These Years

October 2, 2018

ANDERSON_DWELLING_COVER_FRONT_SMALLSometimes, perseverance pays off.

Back in the early 2000s, I began working on a few poems in response to Martin Heidegger’s essay, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” which I first read over a decade before while living in Germany.

In this essay, Heidegger argues that dwelling is our way of being on the Earth, but that modern society creates a rift between building and dwelling.

We can heal that rift by preserving the Earth, by not exploiting its resources and, Heidegger suggests, by thinking about building as dwelling and our relationship to community.

My reactions to the work were complicated by several factors, not the least of which was the philosopher’s complicity with the Nazis during WWII, but also that some of what Heidegger says about dwelling didn’t ring true with what I understood were the origins and meanings of the word “dwelling.”

For example, Heiddegger believed dwelling is best accomplished solely by staying in place, when in fact the roots of the word imply abandonement, leave-taking, and, frankly, wandering.

Heidegger concludes his essay with an example of his own dwelling in southwest Germany’s Black Forest–also home to the Brother’s Grimm. His Black Forest home, known as “die Hütte,” located in Todtnauberg, embodied his concept of being rooted in a place. Of that he was certain.

Yet, dwelling’s roots, if you will, speak to its origins in doubt, leading astray, and ultimately, to being in error. This was clearly rich territory, given Heidegger’s egregious affiliations–and Jewish poet Paul Celan’s visit with the philosopher in 1967.

Exploring a mulitlayered aspect of dwelling as a manifestation of our being on the Earth, I turned to the writing of philophers Kate Soper and David Abrams, as well as that of the phenomeolgist Gaston Bachelard, all of which contributed to my thinking on the subject.

In November 2002, I enjoyed a residency at the Millay Colony for the Arts in Austerlitz, New York, sponsored by the Concordia Foundation, and a sabbatical from my work with The Nature Conservancy, which afforded me concentrated time to engage with my project.

I’ll never forget driving up to the Colony–it was right around my birthday. I’d shared a few of the early poems of my project with my friend and poetry mentor, Alison Hawthorne Deming, who responded positively, calling my project “a phenomenology of how we live on the Earth.”

Man, was that both encouraging and daunting! I had to stop the car more than once with a bit of a panic attack fearing I was not up to the task.

Yet, I persevered, and the work expanded from a sequence of poems to a companion series of essay “questions”–in the tradition of the Egyptian-French poet Edmond Jabès–on themes within the poems, and finally to some short “definition” poems, exploring the various meaning of the word dwelling.

At the 2011 American Society for Literature and the Environment (ASLE) conference in Bloomington, Indiana, I shared several of the poems on a panel organized by poet and anthologist Laura-Gray Street.

Over the years, a number of the poems made it into print or on-line publications, including Terrain, CrossConnect, Many Mountains Moving, and The Wayfarer. The late John Ashbery selected one of the poems, “Becoming,” to represent work produced by the Millay Colony for its 30th Anniversary exhibit at the Albany (New York) International Airport in 2004.

But I couldn’t find a home for the book as I conceived it–poetry and essays combined. When my collection of poems, Fallow Field, came out in 2013, I included several of the “Dwelling” poems as a section in the book, not sure I would ever publish the entire work.

Then, in 2017, I submitted the manuscript to a contest for The Hopper Poetry Prize, a prize devoted to environmentally focused collections. To my surprise, I received an honorable mention, which encouraged me to seek out other publishers towards the end of that year.

I wrote to half a dozen publishers I thought would have an interest and Christine Cote of Shanti Arts in Brunswick, Maine, was one of the first to respond. I sent her the manuscript.

A few weeks later, Christine wrote with such enthusiasm and a clear sense of the vision I had for the book. And the press, which was founded in 2011 “to celebrate and promote connections between art, nature, and spirit,” seemed like a gift to the book.

Christine’s design sense, too, was a gift and, when I suggested using some of my friend the artist Hans Van Meeuwen‘s drawings in the book, she loved the idea. Hans was an artist in residence at Millay when I was there in 2002; in fact, it’s where we met.

And when I told Christine I wanted to run the “definition poems” as a footer across the bottom of the page throughout the book, she was willing to try it–as skeptical as she may have been at first. I also ran the idea by my poetry friend Erin Belieu, showing her a sample. She said it “felt like a whisper across the bottom of the page.” It worked!

Sixteen years after that drive up to the Millay Colony, I’m holding a copy of this book in my hand. It seems like a minor miracle. Although, the real miracle will be you, dear readers, and your reaction to my little book of dwelling on the Earth.

Let me know what you think.

You can order copies directly from the publisher: Shanti Arts

Or on Amazon in paperback or Kindle versions: Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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