Jim Carter

Richard Bradley recognises in ritual the communication of a restricted vocabulary whose contents operate as specialised forms of utterance. My own work aims to invoke visions of distress and redemption not only through sculpture but also by way of a methodology of fragmented and discontinuous ritual poetics. Patrick ffrench notes that sacrifice and poetry are equivalent in their status as systems of destruction or loss affected in order to maintain equilibrium. Poetry is seen as the contemporary equivalent of sacrifice because words are victims that can be revived; of the various sacrifices, ‘it is poetry alone that can be entertained, whose fire we can renew’.

Bleak with a spirit of loss and mourning, my words amount to a kind of palimpsest of supplications to life’s regenerative power; an assemblage of voices, songs and petitions of human, animal and place). Used in part to give voice to an artefact, they have density and fragility equal to the sculptural body. That is to say, the sculpture is revolutionised in the written word that is itself subjected to the same sacra privata of ritual disintegration. Maleuvre writes that ‘it is the oblivion in which we keep objects that feeds their strength. They are rocks of existence while we merely hover.’ Each word, inaccessible to perception, is afforded conceptual power by virtue of its time in the ground: each is part of an ecopoetic system that resists commodification and demystification, each script evoking a specific animal, human or place in need of repair. Being intimate with the earth, I imagine each speaking with sensorial being: with ‘words that still have the soil clinging to their roots, that feel earthy, that are appropriate to the body and the land.‘

The genre of ecopoetics distinguishes itself from other forms of environmental writing by courting the visionary and arational, employing at times fanciful imagery and unorthodox techniques. In my work, there is no intention to obfuscate and yet I acknowledge that the mythopoeic can be infectious with its penchant to suppress objectivity. However, one of the characteristics of ecopoetics, as defined by James Engelhardt, is that it is connected to the world in a way that implies responsibility. Although it often avoids language that refers directly to environmental concerns, it strongly advocates ethical enquiry as well as unconventional modes of writing.

Richard Skelton’s Domain includes typography composed of folk-names for the kestrel, and is a kind of linguistic population count lamenting a decline in population. Skelton describes the work as ‘a form of salvage […] an attempt to stem the tide’ and is indicative of his belief in the enriching power of words as physical objects combined with a compassionate sensitivity. In wrenched syntax and stifling imagery, Les Murray’s poem “Pigs” adopts an alternative approach to convey the distress endemic in the factory-farming system. It is worth quoting the poem in full because we are invited to experience a devastating conclusion from the animal’s own perspective:

Us all on sore cement was we.
Not warmed then with glares. Not glutting mush
under that pole the lightning's tied to.
No farrow-shit in milk to make us randy.
Us back in cool god-shit. We ate crisp.
We nosed up good rank in the tunnelled bush.
Us all fuckers then. And Big, huh? Tusked
the balls-biting dog and gutsed him wet.
Us shoved down the soft cement of rivers.
Us snored the earth hollow, filled farrow, grunted.
Never stopped growing. We sloughed, we soughed
and balked no weird till the high ridgebacks was us
with weight-buried hooves. Or bristly, with milk.
Us never knowed like slitting nor hose-biff then.
Nor the terrible sheet-cutting screams up ahead.
The burnt water kicking. This gone-already feeling
here in no place with our heads on upside down.

My own style relies on an emotional engagement with nature that ranges from fury to humility to give life to a quasi-sermonic and archaic imagination. In his lecture The Redress of Poetry Seamus Heaney describes imagination as pressing back against the pressure of reality, and he quotes Wallace Stevens’ conclusion that poetry is ‘a violence from within that protects us from a violence without.’ Heaney refers to Ted Hughes who interpreted violence not as a force violating sacred laws but as a life-bringer that demobilises its negators and oppressors.

For me, ecopoetics involve a form of sacrifice where egoistic preoccupations are restrained in order to invite primitive concepts of permeability and fluidity previously noted. Although an analysis of the discipline of ecopoetics is outside the scope of this text, it is important to note that I broaden its definition to include my general attitude to art. For ecopoetics applies equally, I feel, to both the written word and sculptural form. It seems to me that environmental art is impoverished if it comes from the realistic without recourse for poetic sensitivity; it is equally so if we subtract from poetic vision a sense of cogency and responsibility. For Christopher Arigo, aware as we are of the body’s dependence on the world for its health, ‘ecopoetics is an inevitable outcome [and] perhaps poetry as a practice is the best means of directly addressing an environment in crisis.’

In his article Jeffers’s “Apology for Bad Dreams” Revisited, Robert Brophy translates the poet’s title as meaning ‘the reason why I write what I must write — turbulent, violent, bloody, horror stories.’ In Brophy’s reading, Jeffers’ enters into a dialogue of ritual sacrifice in which the God of death and regeneration endures and discovers as it manifests in the material world. In my own system, and because I am an anglophile, the God is wholly English, ancient and manifold. It is incumbent upon me to draw upon its mythos to salvage and shelter through sacrifice an English nature as it manifests through sculpture and word.

Jeffers’ himself noted that ‘imagine victims | Lest your own flesh be chosen the agonist’ suggests an imagined victim in a story that is endowed with excess so that it suffers instead of us. It is perhaps a moot point, but I recognise in my work a contradiction in that it is never my intention to imagine a scapegoat to bear the weight of my anxieties. It is a peculiarity of self-referential practice that, as a consequence of the interdependent evolution of two voices, of language and form, they can in partnership generate unlooked-for insight. On the one hand, I do of course only imagine victims because my opinion remains (as a man embedded in Western anthropocentric culture) that my sculpture is inert, and if it can in any way be thought of as living then it is merely through the organic materials with which they are invested. Nevertheless, I have sought to highlight a contrary perception, even to myself: that the ritualised, misshapen artefact hurts; that the archaic, visceral word laments. Arturo Pietri described man as ‘a mystery surrounded by realistic facts’ , and perhaps this is an effective abstract of my position, although, as has been apparent, I would urge that the animal and its effigy not be deprived its equal share in the mystery.