REVIEW BY STEPHEN SPARKS
In The Tree, his classic essay on the interplay between the natural world and creativity, John Fowles writes, “If I cherish trees beyond all personal . . . need and liking of them, it is because of this, their natural correspondence with the greener, more mysterious processes of mind—and because they also seem to me the best, most revealing messengers to us from all nature, the nearest its heart.”
Katie Holten’s About Trees seems inspired by the feeling that animates Fowles’ book, a deep and abiding affinity for our arboreal neighbors that seems less personal than it does instinctive. Holten, a visual artist who created a font composed of trees (A for Apple, B for Beech, C for Cedar, etc.) after working on a series of prints for an upcoming exhibit at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, has gathered in this anthology fifty texts relating to trees in all of their varieties—literal, figurative, biological—and, using her font, has translated each into tree. The effect of these translations is beautiful and also unsettling, with text rendered into often dense and illegible forests. The reader—inasmuch as we can read natural phenomena—cannot help but feel disoriented as About Trees poses vital questions about the nature of art and of nature in an age of environmental catastrophe; about the power of language to convey meaning; and about why and how we conceive of the natural world.
“Biology,” writes Brian J. Enquist in one of the anthologized pieces, “is basically all about trees.” Holten’s rich book—one in a potentially infinite series of similar books, she says—reminds us of that basic fact, and with it our inextricability from the natural world. If literature is looking for a way forward in the Anthropocene, surely this is a place from which to start.
$32 PB 260 pages ISBN: 978-3-943196-30-6 Pub date: October 2015