Notes for the video poem, "A Curriculum for Boys," excerpted from Cadastral Map, published on Barzakh.
From the book's closing essay, "The Meander":
"I enter as a writer, one kind of mapmaker, needing to ask, is traditional nature writing in English a cadastral map? Abstracting, narrowing, taking an especially strong hold in North America, the New World that never was new? Even as 'green is the new black' and environmentalism gains moral momentum, is 'nature writing' still our flawed point of origin, creating ideas of the land and nature that tend to erase people and local knowledge as we go?"
In answer to these questions, Magi arrives in three states: the New Jersey farmland of her childhood, a Kentucky of deep lyricism and painful inequities, and early 20th century Vermont where progressive policies established an idea of nature, pitting local needs against policies to attract tourists. She enters these questions and sites via poetry—because "a policy is a path that is made, an effect to feel."
Echoes abound in Jill Magi's Cadastral Map, an infrared inspection of American charts, letters shorn of their “authorial presence,” inspired and partial “slender notes,” sharp lyric angles composed against “rashness,” oral transcripts. What “slips between states of develop or preserve” lies along America’s “radiant” roadsides, and in this poetry, “a line of transplants/ prevents a clear view.” Magi’s archival paths unearth what nature writing shades—the loam's sooty history, with an unsparing ear for the resistance, idiosyncrasy, humor, and beauty that abides in the margins.
Thanks to Jill Magi’s Cadastral Map, we may redefine relationships between many things: the map and the letter, the native and the composed, the language and the landscape, history and anarchy. By plotting, erasing, and re-plotting these points, Magi exhumes voices and paradigms that deserve to be unearthed. The Cadastral Map draws a new horizon for us to contemplate: the place where language is sewn to the earth—perhaps with concrete or bloodmeal—in all of its complicated glory.
(Images above and published in the book are from The Vermont Historical Society Library archives.)