The Blue Plateau

Published : Monday, October 15, 2007 | Label: Works In Progress  

Back in March 2007, I finished a complete rewrite of a book, The Blue Plateau, I’ve been working on, sporadically for seven years. The Blue Plateau is a work of lyric nonfiction about a place I lived in for seven years; it’s a piece of nature writing; it’s a prose poem. And the book is out now with a number of publishers in the United States and Australia. One way or another, it should appear in 2008–09. Here’s a description:

The Blue Plateau is a memoir of an astonishing Australian landscape and some of its people, among them for a time me. It’s a search through sandstone country for whatever it is that makes a good life—not just a good place (or a good time)—in these late days of the Holocene.

The Blue Plateau is a sacred geography of a country of canyons and creeks and paddocks and eucalypt forests in Australia’s southeast, where for seven years I tried to belong. I tell the book in the vernacular—and I compose it out of pieces of the lives—of some of the plateau’s inhabitants, ancient and modern and postmodern. Although its narrative follows the course of my attempt to settle in this tough, mesmeric landscape, The Blue Plateau is a book of many belongings. Home is what it’s about. How one makes it these days; how one gets on with the physical world; and how much longer the world will remain so habitable a place.

My book is a love story—many love stories—told in geologic time. It’s an elegy and a chorale in lyric prose for a plateau, a place that stands, like the pond in Walden, for the entire given world.

To do justice to a deeply eroded sedimentary landscape, which arrived on a hundred different rivers; in order to think about things ecologically; and because it’s the way this book needed to come out, I’ve written an unconventional narrative made of discontinuous fragments of five or six storylines and timezones; and I’ve drawn on the techniques of the poem, the essay, and the novel to pull it together.

What I’ve written might be called a lyric essay or a prose poem. The Blue Plateau resembles most closely James Galvin’s The Meadow, but it will bring to mind other books familiar to American readers: Anne Michaels’s Fugitive Pieces, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa and Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams, in particular. Others may think of Henry Beston, Loren Eiseley, John Haines, Kent Haruf, Mary Oliver, or Terry Tempest Williams. But the book is mine from start to finish. It sounds like me—me, and a sandstone plateau. This is not a book of solutions; it’s an act of literary witness. But through it runs the belief that landscapes, even in desperate times, can console us and teach us how to live.

Written through drought in a landscape where global warming has been rehearsing for some time, The Blue Plateau may be a new kind of nature writing in a distinctive new voice for a world on the edge of an ecological precipice.


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