Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Open Field: Reading Field as Place and Poetics

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Open Field: Reading Field as Place and Poetics

Article excerpt


In 1960, the Black Mountain poet, Robert Duncan published his first major collection, The Opening of the Field. His "field" chimes with that of William Carlos Williams's "composition by field" and Charles Olson's poetic field of action. This poetic space or place has become a symbol of permission for poets with a simultaneous interest in open form poetics and the complex nexus of ideas around landscape and environment. In this essay, the open field is a matrix for a rhizomatic, ecopoetic exploration of the correspondences between form and landscape, as well as the cross-fertilization of British and American field poetics. Tarlo glances back to early roots or leaves of grass and forward to consider work by poets including Denise Levertov, Jack Collom, Leslie Scalapino, Peter Larkin, Frances Presley and Maggie O'Sullivan. In our current climate, the field, like all pastoral images, becomes an ever-complex, de-romanticized space. "Open Field" is grounded in locality and practice by extracts from Tarlo's recent site-specific poem on a particular field just outside Penistone in West Yorkshire.

Key names and concepts: Jack Collom, Robert Duncan, Peter Larkin, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson, Maggie O'Sullivan, Frances Presley, Leslie Scalapino, William Carlos Williams; Anglo-American poetic correspondences locality, ecopoetics, field(s), open form poetry.

A field is more than metaphorical.

Through its creation (form) and its maintenance (labour), it is, and has been since

Neolithic succeeded Paleolithic times, a place where land and human meet

a meeting which originated with the clearing of the ground, the woodland and

the animals, to create

O.E. feld probably related to O.E. folde: "earth, land," from P.Gmc:

"plain, open land" (OED)

A field is cleared to be "a parcel of land marked off and used for pasture or tillage" (OED). A field is a meadow of flowers, buttercups shifting in light wind, sorrel and grasses glowing shimmer orange/pink over the top. A field is workplace, a container for animals to grow for slaughter, for crops to grow for harvest, for grass to grow for hay: a place of growth and rebirth, a place of control and death, a place of change. A field is a bounded and scarred and worked space.

A field is such an ancient, fundamental way of thinking about containment, that we use it

- to think about space for human activity: playing fields, battlefields.

- to think about art: a fine art field, a field of work.

- to think about fieldwork, going out from academe into the "real" world.

- to think about thinking: a field of philosophy, a field of knowledge.

- to think about sight and perspective: the visual field of the eye's retina, the field of view of a lens.

- to think about physics or time and space: field theory, cybernetics, energy fields.

In 1960, the American Black Mountain poet, Robert Duncan published his first major collection, the now classic late modernist text, The Opening of the Field. His use of the word "field" chimes with that of William Carlos Williams's 'field of action' (1948) and, most importantly, Charles Olson's 'composition by field', the poetic field of energy or of action. In 'Projective Verse' (1950), Olson writes: "We now enter, actually, the large area of the whole poem, into the FIELD, if you like, where all the syllables and all the lines must be managed in their relations to each other" (Olson 1997: 243). A field then is worked language in a page or, latterly, screen space. The work is equivalent and often compared to that of a farmer:

It is my impression that all parts of speech suddenly, in composition by field, are fresh for both sound and percussive use, spring up like unknown, unnamed vegetables in the patch, when you work it, come spring. (244)

The cycle of working the land is referenced here, the listening, seeing, writing, editing of the work: land work, poetry work, "Groundwork", to cite the title of two of Robert Duncan's late books. …

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