Whole Trees with their Bones: Botany & Poetry

Whole Trees with their Bones: Botany & Poetry

Become plant collectors and enlarge the meaning of our natural world(s)

‘When Flowers annually died and I was a child, I used to read Dr Hitchcock’s Book on the Flowers of North America. This comforted their Absence–assuring me they lived’
– Emily Dickinson 

‘A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else’
– Hermann Hesse 

‘In Botany there is a species of plants called Incomplete; and just in the same way, it can be said that there are people who are incomplete and imperfect’
– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe  

Dickinson, Goethe and Hesse shared many qualities as writers, but a common value that they both held and practiced in their writing was a participation in nature, more precisely in the lives of plants. They were all botanists of varying expertise and frequently foraged in order to discover, collect, and, of course, preserve, actively responding to nature in their lives and writing. On this course, we will investigate how to write poems that are in dialogue (especially the listening part) with plants and trees, unifying our sense of sight, sound, scent, touch and taste. We’ll riff off botanical methods of collecting and identifying, and explore how it relates to how we write and edit, focusing in on sentence units, then words, then syllables, unpacking a hierarchy of how things come to be made, and how each component is connected. We’ll switch places with nature in an attempt to map how we pay attention to the world outside of our heads. And we will explore what is human in botany and what is botanical about human beings (if plants and trees could call each one of us something, what would it be? And if not in language, would it be an expression of sound, vision, space or something else?) Of particular interest will be a focus on the paradoxical relationship between human beings and plants. Our studies will involve a range of diverse methods, including close readings of extracts from Herbrarium, The Metamorphosis of Plants and Wandering: Notes and Sketches, and poems by Olav Hauge, Alice Oswald, Ted Hughes, WS Merwin, Charlotte Smith and others. Students will also visit a garden to create their own mini herbarium to actively connect with the subject matter in their writing. No previous knowledge of botany is necessary.

5 fortnightly sessions over 10 weeks. Live chats 7-9pm GMT on Tuesdays, first live chat starting 29 Jan 2019 (and not 22 Jan 2019, as previously stated on this website).

More information about how all our online courses work can be found on the Online Courses page.

(Image credit: ‘Harvard Library’)

About Sarah Byrne View Profile

Sarah Byrne is a writer, editor and publisher based in Co. Cork, Ireland. Sarah’s poetry has appeared in The Irish Times, The Irish Examiner, The New Statesman, Poetry Ireland Review and in various anthologies. She has received awards for her work from the Cork County Council, the Cork City Council and The Arts Council of Ireland. As editor of the poetry journal, The Well Review, Sarah has published work by John Burnside, Anne Carson, Ishion Hutchinson, Nick Laird, Sinéad Morrissey and many more. Her original background is in criminology and psychology, and she worked in a wide variety of settings, including psychiatric hospitals and prisons until 2017. Sarah was educated at Trinity College Dublin, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. She is particularly passionate about science, photography and hip-hop, and how these different disciplines relate to contemporary poetry.

‘I have the opportunity to enjoy teaching by very experienced and dedicated poets, ready to share their knowledge and vision and to encourage their students.’

– Summer 2018 survey response

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