Friday, 3 April 2015

Reverse Linguistic Imperialism (or) Nature Poems

Animists perceive and talk about the natural world in a profoundly different way than most and thus include nature in their moral community. They do not consider nature to be 'natural resources' to be used and exploited but rather as relatives and ancestors. This animist way of relating to nature may offer important keys to a sustainable future for humans.

In 'YES! Magazine' Robin Wall Kimmerer points out that in her native Anishinaabe language beings other than humans are not referred to as 'it'. She has an excellent point that if we were instead to use more intimate language for the natural world we could begin to transform our relationship with nature. Kimmerer suggests that we develop a pronoun in English as "...a kind of reverse linguistic imperialism, a shift in worldview".

She goes on to suggest that we use 'ki' as a personal pronoun for non-human lifeforms and 'kin' for the plural. It reminds me of the feminist book "Cunt" by Inga Muscio. In it Muscio made the argument that non-gendered people should be called 'Zi'. In 1999 when I first read Muscio's work I was at a small college on Mount Desert Island with very open minded group of young people and we used 'Zi' with our non-gendered classmates. However, the pronoun never stuck in the vocabulary and was very awkward to use anywhere outside of campus. Genderless people continue to search for a pronoun and the commensurate respect and love of the dominant community as does the natural world.

As Gary Snyder says "most kids are natural animists". I know that is it is true for me. As a boy I spent much of my time in the forests and oceans of the Maine coast observing and learning the patterns of the natural world through all the seasons. I also find that it is true for many ecologists and poets, evidence of which is found throughout their writings, as in Alan Watts' translation of Basho's famous frog haiku:

The old pond,
A frog jumps in:

I suggest that we look back to the Transcendentalist and beat writers, our own linguistic and poetic ancestors, and their translations of mountain poets of Asia, for some less gawky ways of honoring nature in the English language. Snyder himself often referred to the plants and animals as 'grandfather' and 'grandmother' which is how this gets translated to me in the field when working with animist teachers.

Here's a poem by Gary Snyder that lends itself to this animistic child-like curiosity called 'They're Listening'

As the crickets' soft, autumn hum
is to us
so are we to the trees
as are they
to the rocks and the hills.

Read Robin Wall Kimmerer's piece in YES! Magazine:
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