Here’s how the dialogue begins:
Like This Press: David, in a nutshell, what is Turf?
David Berridge: Turf is a book-in-a-box, a set of materials exploring relationships of poetry and natural history, where the later is seen both as the physical world and as a terra incognita of authors, texts, and new poetic forms.
LTP: Why did you write Turf?
DB: I realised many of the poets I liked were reading lots of natural history texts, as sources for poems but also as models of writing and thinking – texts such as Edgar Anderson’s Plants, Man and Life, and Herbals and The Mind and the Eye by the English botanist Agnes Arber.
These poetries were mostly North American, from the 1950s and 60s, connected to histories of Objectivist and New American Poetry. I read the texts by Arber and others and also found them immensely exciting. I wanted to record, explore and pass on this allegiance, as something to be enjoyed in its own right but also for its relation to contemporary poetics, such questions as what a distinctive poets mode of research might be, how poetry relates to ecological crisis.
What I found in these writers was somewhat different to how the relationships of poetry and ecology are often formulated. So writing Turf was a way to explore this tension between “ecological knowledge” as the environmental crisis requires of us, and what we might call an “ecological thinking” of poetry, writing and thought.
LTP: What were these differences?
DB: A book like Jonathan Williams Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems offers one demonstration of these differences, in the variety of forms and tones employed, its commitments to language and sensation that overrides a particular position and ethic, or a need to communicate particular information.
There is also a particular figure of the poet that is constructed and demonstrated in this book, one possessing elements of folklorist, maverick, trash collector, connoisseur, and humorist. A purveyor, too, of what some might call contradictions: highly sociable recluse, vernacular aesthete…
LTP: Turf comprises a series of source texts. Can you say a little about these and how you came to work with them?