This Animal Weight: Body as Landscape, Landscape as Body
When one enters what is referred to as “metaphorical space,” the spontaneous interplay of language can occur. I work under the thesis that ecologically disrupted environments offer access points in which to experience language. This metaphorical space is the space of the body, the space of trance, the space of violence, and the space of poetry. As a poet, my intention is to work backwards, into the elemental sources of language: lines become fragments, words tear at the seams, glyphs are incised into the sand and are washed away with the first wave. For the past three years, I have been working in exclusive ecopoetic collaboration with my native landscape, the Great Salt Lake. Dying (drying) for thousands of years, the remnants of the ancient Lake Bonneville are, comparatively, a puddle. The Lake itself is composite -- a diminishing body, more salt than water, more active than the desolate salt flats indicate, profoundly comforting, terrifying, and lonesome.
To outsiders, it may seem obvious that one from Salt Lake City would fall in love with the Great Salt Lake; however, this, too, is part of its allure. The Lake is in plain sight. Each evening, from the top of my street, I can watch the sun drop right into the water. Despite being a short 16 miles from the city-center, the Lake remains largely invisible to most Salt Lake City residents. In fact, many native Utahans have never even visited. Upon learning of my work, most respond with at least some degree of horror, “It stinks there!” or “It’s a filthy cesspool.”
Alfred Lambourne, the man whom I consider to be my poetic predecessor, attempted to homestead the Lake’s Gunnison Island in 1890. He is the only person who claims to have lived at the Lake “for love alone.” He lasted a short eleven months. His failures are recorded in his account, Pictures of an Inland Sea, the opening lines of which read, “No sooner did the sails of the departing yacht vanish and leave me with my thoughts alone, than I felt, and with a strange sinking of the heart, how more intense indeed, how deeper than all imagining, is the wildness and desolation of the savage poem around me.” This passage has become an oft-repeated mantra for me, only I change Lamborne’s around to inside, “the wildness and desolation of the savage poem inside me.” At the Lake I have been shot at, arrested for trespassing, caught in a blizzard, and capsized by waves; however, none of these experiences are “it.” Whatever this wild precipice I am drawn to is, continues to elude explanation. Perhaps it is nothing more than a poet’s obsession.
The Lake is a mirror. It simultaneously holds me and hollows me. It preserves and destroys. I too become invisible, wild. I am pronghorn antelope, coyote, pelican, eared grebe, brine shrimp, and red algae. The language I uncover there takes me to the places where my earliest impulses still quicken. I am both corporeal and transcendent, simultaneously silenced and aware. My body is landscape, the landscape is body, and both are containers for poetry.
Holly Simonsen also works off the page with installation art and performance poetry. She earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in several literary journals, including Copper Nickel, Ecotone, and NANO-Fiction. She teaches English at Westminster College. Her poems, "two resting blackbirds" and "Shed" appear in HFR #48.