The Poetics of Landscape


Glen Phillips

Ideas from Glen Phillips’ work Land Whisperings and a Poetics of Newplace and Birthplace (2006) summarized by the author and illustrated by his water colors, previously published in Six Seasons: a Bilingual Collection of Australian and Chinese Poems by ICLL Press, 2012.

I demonstrate my concept of landscape as palimpsest, following Bachelard’s interest in how important formative places are in instilling in us an attachment to a chosen place – or a place that has chosen us — in a range of configurations of the ‘Palimpsest of Place’. I refer to palimpsest as a re-written page, with the previous story or images almost entirely erased. Works of landscape art (including, of course, literary works) necessarily erase wholly or partially the representations of previous renditions, always repainting, as it were, the canvas.



Apart from Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, I refer to Lefebre, Deleuze, Summers and Casey, among others. The two vital concepts of place and space constitute for me a forward strategy for the artist working with an environmental specialisation. Of course, ‘landscape’ itself is a construct, a mental projection. Yet that mental construct is actually what we are dealing with in thinking about, talking about or representing a landscape. So we effectively become complicit in the destruction of environment as we base creative work on it.



I argue that the artist or writer not only re-writes other former artistic depictions of the landscape as some sort of freeze-frame interpretation but, at the same time, erases part of these previous works. What is more, he or she also can change or influence the landscape itself by presenting the ‘new’ work to readers or viewers and thus encouraging changes in society’s attitudes to the modification of that landscape. This shows another face of the palimpsestic process—the page that is erased (whether paper, papyrus, vellum or bark) has itself been subject to man the tool maker, the creator of his own ‘metaoptical’ art media as well as being a transformer, a re-writer of his living environments.