Linnaeus is given a flower to/hold, memorizes pictures by/their sounds, and is refused/access to a vital world of/touch. Lines (of many sizes)/begin to separate the wild/objects waiting to be known.
– “I” by Emily Skillings
Emily Skillings, poet, dancer, and member of the Belladonna Collective, has published a chapbook of poems that manages to be both luscious and spare at the same time (2014, No,Dear and Small Anchor Press). The collection consists of 26 poems inspired by the Swedish botanist and naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) . Linnaeus began his work by classifying plants through a sexual system based on the number of pistils and stamens, and moved on to his more commonly known binomial nomenclature system, or Systema naturae. The scientific name for “Belladonna”, for instance is Atropa bella-donna, based on that system.
The playwright August Strindberg is quoted as saying “Linnaeus was in reality a poet who happened to become a naturalist.” I mentioned this to D. over our coffee this morning. She asked if he was literally a poet (e.g. a writer of poems)? I don’t think so. But his naturalist writings and travel logs were thought to be so rich and unique in terms of language, and yet so simple, Strindberg and others saw the poetry there. For instance, from his travel logs:
Night came with its thick darkness. The high conifer forest became a wall, twice higher in the dark, sheet lightning flared like ghostfires, sharply and often, thunderless, the horses were flashing, sparks flying from their shoes against stones, owls shrieked like phantoms, and the nightjar was thrumming like a spinning wheel.
– Carl Linnaeus
It still begs the question though, and D. proposed this: “What makes it [scientific classification] poetic? Is it the skill of identifying commonalities across disparate organisms…[sites John Ashberry and Roget’s Thesaurus]?” [At this point, D. speculates that they gave us caffeine in our decaf coffee by mistake. Still, I agreed with her].
From Linnaeus for example:
In a portrait of Linnaeus
he holds a sprig, which
migrates up his red coat and is
absorbed by his buttons. The
leaves become the buttons,
become hard shapes on his
torso, become something not
leaves and not buttons but an
idea of both that is replicated.
Perhaps it is Linnaeus’ (a)social habit of detailing events in notebook that makes him most like a poet ?
Linnaeus takes out his
notebook at social gatherings
to draw bouquets. There’s
a long wavy line, and then
things move away from the
line. Suits lean in.