Filed under: Dust | Tags: cartography, fisk, geography, ghost trails, journal, maps, mississippi, river
Some readers may remember my quest earlier this summer to see for myself the striking maps of the “Mississippi Ghost Trails.” They were found and drooled over, but little did I know that it was not the last I would see of these maps…
Needless to say I gasped out loud when, while moving inordinate amounts of literary magazines to a table marked “FREE” outside of Shakespeare and Company, I saw this journal in the stack:
Mantis: A journal of poetry & translation out of Stanford concentrated its sixth issue (Summer 2007) on “Geographies.” The citation for the cover art is correct: “Plate 22-8 from the Geological Investigation of the Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River–Fisk, 1944 Report.” Interestingly, the editors highlighted a key from the map and reproduced it below their citation. I’m not sure if this is a symbolic move or for those who might actually try to read the map.
Mantis’ goal are somewhat vague, concerning linguistic and culture diversity. The editors hope their Geographies issue “can itself contour the complexity and richness of global poetic culture,” that it “comprises something other than a poetic atlas in which to pick destinations for literary tourism, but rather manages to juxtapose the wealth of lyric voices active, across the map, in all their difference” (8-9). I’m not sure distant highlighting distance “across the map” and “literary tourism” are from each other, or whether that truly speaks to geography.
This is a less than striking thematic use of geography or maps, but there is one clever piece in the journal whose literary geography is provocative. Because I like dictionaries (yes, I do, James), New England (I think this is true), and poetry, I enjoyed Maria Hummel’s “A Geopoetic Dictionary of New England: Selected terms from the landscape of New England poetry.” The entries I most fancied included:
Archive: another word for a river, “a glance of history fleshed in the fish” (David Roderick, “Riparian”)
Boggy Acre: a place a snake might fancy (Emily Dickinson, 986)
Brattle Street: an avenue where a small boy tears past you, “his arms full of lavender plunder, lilacs he’s bringing home for his mother” (Gail Mazur, “Lilacs on Brattle Street”)
Swamp: 1. the “endless/wet thick/cosmos, the center/of everything”; 2. a place of great transformation to traverse but ultimately enriching (Mary Oliver, “Crossing the Swamp”) (72-78).
This piece takes the opposite approach of what I understand to be that of the editors. In Hummel’s piece, literature defines geography. But Mantis seems to desire that geography define its literature. Both directions can be interesting, and I think I attempted both in my senior thesis on Bayou Literature. But at the moment I find more powerful the way that literature depicts and defines geography, often shaping that image or definition in the minds of the readers. Then what are the implications of that effect, to come to know a land or water through literature?
But I must thank the editors of Mantis, for now I own a beautifully printed book with these ghost trails on the cover and “Half Moon Bayou” featured on the center of the page. It is often that I judge a book by its cover.
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