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Were X a Tree: glosses on Larkin

How does, once supposed, the standing tree emerge from a more primary field of leaves? Peter Larkin

Peter Larkin is a British essayist, philosophy librarian, and experimental writer with a cult following. His thirty years of work,1 nominally about forms of woodland stratification and different tiers of managed and natural space, cuts ventral space in these woods for phenomenological thought. It has been commented on for its strange structures: Robert Baird has written on Larkin’s ‘idiolect’, describing parsing the puns in Leaves of Field on the grammatical level ‘at which Larkin twists his language awry’.2 Jeremy Prynne has also recently commented on his language’s relationship to rhizome structures,3 while Jonathan Skinner has observed that Reading Larkin is like guessing topography from canopy, and entails inventing a whole new method.4 This collaborative book invents a whole new method. It brings together twenty-five authors’ glosses on a range of eclectic Larkin fragments (from clause, to sentence, to block, to page). Orienting themselves within the localised terrain of his linguistically alien ‘qualifying canopies’,5 these glosses avoid academic norms of review, as well as the conventional stature


Publications include Additional Trees (Kenilworth, 1992), Terrain Seed Scarcity: Poems From a Decade (Salt, 2001), three pamphlets from the Gig in 2004 (Rings Resting the Circuit, What the Surfaces Enclave of Wang Wei, and Sprout Near Severing Close), Leaves of Field (Shearsman, 2006), Lessways Least Scarce Among: Poems 2002-2009 (Shearsman, 2012), Imparkments (The Surrogate Has Settled) (Veer, 2012), the critical text Wordsworth and Coleridge: Promising Losses (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), and Give Forest Its Next Portent (Shearsman, forthcoming). 2 Robert P. Baird, ‘Peter Larkin, Leaves of Field’, Chicago Review vol. 53 no. 1 (2007) 3 J.H. Prynne, ‘On the Poetry of Peter Larkin’, No Prizes, vol. 2 (2013) 4 Jonathan Skinner, ‘Thoughts on Things: Poetics of the Third Landscape’, Eco Language Reader, ed. Brenda Iijima, (Brooklyn, NY: Portable Press at Yo Yo Labs and Callicoon; NY: Nightboat Books, 2010) 5 Skinner, ibid.

of literary writing, finding instead a closer, experimental ‘petty shearline’6 thicket of criticism. They open out new ‘valves’, ‘breaches’ and ‘bypasses’7 in his coppiced texts, which are cited in a range of forms, from prose to lyric to interview to prefatory note, as well as from both larger collections and small press chapbooks. The critical introduction explains the choice of title, taken from Larkin, as a reference to his use of ‘tree regimes’8 as speculative practice – a form of rhetorical “thinking with” arboreal phenomena, also relevant to the contributors’ “thinking with” Larkin’s source texts. It will also argue for the necessity of approaching Larkin’s work outside of existing academic ‘enclosures’,9 following an ‘ethics of attention’ into ‘lateral exits and extensions’ (Seita, 2013).10 On the verso of each page is a photograph of the annotated source fragment, showing the writer’s pricks and cuts into Larkin’s cropped prose or lyric. On the recto is each short critical intervention (~1k to 2k words). These micro-essays draw on non-standard academic traditions of commentary offered in Glossator11 and other publications, as well as offering examples in visual form of different paratextual critical practices, marginal scrawls, in-text diagrams, and highlighting of the lexical assemblage of Larkin’s ‘forest expectation sites’.12 The twenty-five scholars range from fresh readers to the names already associated with Larkin criticism. They are: John Kinsella, Robert Macfarlane, Sarah Howe, Sophie Seita, John Milbank, G. C. Waldrep, Brenda Iijima, Jonathan Skinner, Amy Cutler, Carol Watts, Stephen Collis, Ian Brinton, David Miller, Stuart Cooke, Edmund Hardy, Matt Hall, Lissa Wolsak, Matthew Sperling, Mark Dickinson, Ian Heames, Natalie Joelle, Emma Mason, Ryan Dobran, Claire Potter, and Daniel Eltringham. They use their chosen fragments as ‘crucial tiny portals’13 into discussions of moral and ethical responsibility, European phenomenology, language theory and etymology, management and use-value, ‘difficulty’ in innovative and modernist writing, radical pastoral, and syntactical and symbolic paradox. Bringing together a team of important avant-garde writers, this book will not restrict its motives or its readership to the single author study. It will aim to offer a lattice of new critical-creative abductions for readers unfamiliar with Larkin’s work. The type-set source excerpts will be lifted and transformed into new fields of annotation, with each double page spread offering ‘a sort of spoil or awning of negotiation’.14 Complimenting Larkin’s own interest in the constitution of field through vertical and horizontal layers, this book will explore the foliate ‘horizontals’ of criticism across marginalia, collaboration, and cross-reference. Some of the essays will touch on Larkin’s botanical, architectural, mathematical, and philosophical investments, and the shades of Merleau-Ponty, John Milbank, Jean Luc Marion, Geoffrey Hartman, and Anne-Lise Francois will ghost across the book. But the surface level terrain will never be abandoned. Each found fragment or splinter of his work here becomes a ‘shelter-form’15 for new thought, in a series of critical affordances. Each of these in turn approach their materials within the scale of Larkin’s own spliced and dendritic ‘anti-scapes’.16 In this book, trees – and marginalia – become the juncture of new philosophical, literary, environmental, and collaborative thought.


Peter Larkin, Sprout Near Severing Close (Toronto: The Gig, 2004) These terms are taken from Larkin’s ‘Urban Woods’, in Leaves of Field (Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2006) 8 Peter Larkin, Additional Trees (Kenilworth Press, 1992) 9 See Peter Larkin, Enclosures (pamphlet, 1983) 10 Sophie Seita, ‘The Ethics of Attention in Peter Larkin’s ‘Leaves of Field’’, Cordite Poetry Review online (2013): <> 11 The journal Glossator: Practice and Theory of the Commentary, available online at <> 12 From Peter Larkin, ‘Open Woods’, in Leaves of Field, ibid. 13 Punctum Books, ‘About’, <> 14 Larkin, ‘Prefatory Note’, Leaves of Field, ibid. 15 Peter Larkin, Lessways Least Scarce Among: Poems 2002-2009 (Bristol: Shearsman Books, 2012) 16 Larkin, Additional Trees, ibid. 7

Were X A Tree