Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | May 17, 2011

Poetry Exploring an Ecological Faith: A Book Review of Oak Wise by L.M. Browning

I have been suggesting now for a while that we need a new Dante, someone who can give a poetic voice to a new worldview that allows us to live more harmoniously with the Earth and with one another.  I borrow this notion from the cultural historian Thomas Berry who famously said that our problem right now is that we need a good story.  Human beings need stories to integrate information and to express it meaningfully.  The story—or the poem—is how information becomes wisdom, how it comes to life.  The philosopher-cosmologist Brian Swimme has been at this for years, as has the poet Drew Dellinger.  L.M. Browning is another such poet, giving voice to the embedded consciousness of the Celtic world.

Browning’s poetry works because it is both personal and universal.  Essentially, Oak Wise is her story, a story of leaving the modern world behind for the world of “the shaman”, the world of her ancestors.

I travel across your hills

—across the curves of your shapely body—

making my way yonder,

towards the small gathering

of long-standing native folk

The Earth’s subjectivity comes forth here, in stark contrast to the Modern perspective that thinks of it as what Berry calls “a collection of objects.”  Just as it is an intensely personal story, is also very much our story, the story of the end of modernity and our collective search for a return to a more meaningful culture and a deeper connection to the Earth:

We take our harvest from your body.

We peel back your grassy skin and plant our seeds

Within the deep tissue of your flesh.

 

…you are the womb of us all mother

we all connect to you and live off you.

Browing is establishing her self in the tradition eco-philosopher Charlene Spretnak calls “embedded literature.”  This connection to the Earth comes with a warning:

We cut down the trees

—the lungs through which you breathe—

and while you could regenerate from our theft,

your natural cycles are impeded

as now the few maples and oaks that remain

yield their bounty of seeds into tar roads

Indeed, if we do not find such a connection the consequences could be disastrous.

One of Browing’s strengths as a poet is her ability to convey a cohesive narrative through the poetic form.  In doing so, she joins in the ancient tradition of narrative poetry that reflects an archetypal, mythic pattern.  She takes the reader on a journey, a journey of remembrance.  For it is a journey we have all been on before, deep within our cultural memory, a journey that involves return.  And this notion of return works two ways: First, she is inviting us to return to an older way of being in the world, the way of our shamanic ancestors.  “An ecological faith,” she calls it, created “not by prophets, but by peasants.”  Second, and more subtly, she is returning from this journey to teach us.  While she recapitulates ancient patterns and traditions, Browning does so from her unique perspective, and with a sensitivity to the unique problems of our age.  She closes the poem with a challenge to the oft-used phrase of North Carolina novelist Thomas Wolfe, and a challenge to the common sense of the modern age:

We coined the modern adage,

            “you can’t return home,”

condemning ourselves to a way of life

where joy is seldom found;

closing the door

that would have always remained open to us…

            a door that can still be reopened,

if only we admit that we are a people of the Earth

and what we need to be fulfilled

lies within the simple ways we left behind.


Indeed, if only we could admit.

You can purchase Oak Wise: Poetry Exploring an Ecological Faith here: http://www.amazon.com/Oak-Wise-Poetry-Exploring-Ecological/dp/1935656015/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1305638872&sr=8-1

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