The Pine-Woods Notebook

BY Craig Dworkin


ISBN: 9780999719848 (2019)

Following the traces of the trail blazed by Francis Ponge in Le Carnet du bois de pins (1947), The Pine-Woods Notebook offers a simultaneous study of two environments. It documents the ecologies of two particular stands of conifers (one in the Wasatch front of the Rockies’ western edge, the other in the coastal Cascades of the Pacific Northwest); at the same time, it investigates the linguistic environment at the intersection of the words pitch and pine in all of their denotations. An essay built from densely patterned sentences, The Pine-Woods Notebook records the surprising resonance of chance lexical encounters and argues for the inextricable interweaving of the phenomenology of the conifer (its shape, scent, and cool darkness — as well as the distinctive sound of the wind in its branches) together with the vitality of its fluid sap and disseminating reproductive processes. Both the distinctive scent and coolness of a pine grove, for example, turn out (according to recent scientific studies) to be consequences of the same chemical process, in which uniquely structured molecular chains form as the trees ‘exhale.’ Similarly, the emotive ‘sigh’ of the wind in the pine — recurrently regarded, across cultures and centuries, as the most beautiful of natural sounds — can be heard as sexual reproduction made audible, since the pine depends on the wind (rather than insects or birds) for pollination. Here, the erotic longing of pining meets the affective reflex of breath as they articulate the branching of the signifier.

Craig Dworkin is the author of over a half-dozen books of poetry, including, most recently: Chapter XXIV (Red Butte Press, 2013); Alkali (Counterpath, 2105); 12 Erroneous Displacements and a Fact (Information As Material, 2016), and DEF (Information As Material, 2017). Despite their aesthetic diversity, these works all attempt to probe the limits of language by working from the linguistic — the impersonal, asemantic, chance motivations of material signifiers in structural relations — toward the literary: language in lush and enthused rhetorical flush. In addition to working as a literary critic and art historian, Dworkin teaches at the University of Utah and serves as Founding Senior Editor to the Eclipse Archive.

Marjorie Perloff:

To define the inspired by the dictionary in its elaborate exfoliations, The Pine-Woods Notebook is at once esoteric and familiar, a mock-epic version of such Romantic conversation poems as Coleridge’s The Lime-Tree Bower: My Prison. Its short lines or strophes, separated by white space, take the form of individual aphorisms or textbook scientific descriptors, speech rhythms and contours being notoriously absent.

In keeping with the Conceptualist model, many of Dworkin’s declarative sentences are appropriated, in translation, from other texts. But his is hardly the simulation of actual speech, much less recorded speech taken from TV and radio discourse. Indeed, the language of The Pine-Woods Notebook is resolutely literary, a set of subtly sounded phrases and sentences generated by what is primarily an etymological project. Call it Conceptual lyric.