Supported by a generous grant from the Creative Work Fund, we worked as poets from spring 2015 to fall 2016 from a makeshift studio at the UC Botanical Garden, at Berkeley, California. We led public walks, interviewed staff, volunteers, and visitors, collecting data on biophilic relations by posing questions like “What is nature here?” and “What can’t the boundary fences keep out?”
We borrowed the form of the botanical catalog and created a humongous (180-page) annotated, illustrated index of what we captured—people’s desires, memories, expertise, concerns, and affiliations with other living matter. We explored unprivatizing environmental experience and making sense of a global plant collection, and we celebrated the imaginative language in the air.
We like the human face of the index, which we call a public poem, the face of a host of named people making gambits of participation in a vibrant ecosystem. It inspired us to also make videos and write site essays. We hope our work returns to the public a mirror of their exquisite animation.
And now we ask ourselves, what created such an active collaboration—was the beauty of the garden the main actant; can beauty trigger engagement, help us “give up our imaginary position as the center” (Simone Weil)? And what does it mean in the larger world—could little awakenings into collaborative participation create a wave that tips toward change, return us to a felt experience of “the poetic-revolutionary nature of reality” (Andrew Joron)?
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"When Language Meets an Ecosystem." An article by Denise Newman and Hazel White, published by World Literature Today, puts their work at the UC Botanical Garden in context. They discuss language-environment projects by international artists and poets Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott, Kai Lossgott, a rawlings, Adam Chodzko, Sawako Nakayasu, and Ruth Sacks.