POETRY | Periplum

Posted on 22/11/2009


As an idea that could potentially be integral to practices of writing place or place writing, periplum repeatedly crops up in my literary and critical meanderings. As I understand it, the term comes from Ezra Pound’s poetry, specifically The Pisan Cantos, and is a reference to an ‘other’ kind of cartographic practice that emerges from a poetic perspective. Rather than viewing from above, as the cartographer and the historian ordinarily do, the periplum is a type of mapping that comes of personal voyaging, showing how the land looks from the sea.

The maps that are produced are subjective and individual, drawn from experience and open to other experience – a kind of descriptive geography that defines a relationship between writing (or language) and the landscape (or city). Drawn from the ancient Grecian idea of periplous/periploi, which means voyaging or sailing around, Pound’s Latinised version is described by Liebregts (Ezra Pound and Neoplatonism) as meaning:

A journey not by fixed charts or stars, but by intuition and reason; not by plotting a course ahead on papers, but by looking directly at what is in front of you and acting accordingly. The journey thus becomes one continuous discovery and accumulation of experience.

This proposition equates the scribe (poet, writer) with the voyager who notes the details of their explorations of space or history, which may be referred to at a later time by another voyager. It is a process of knowing the unknown from the poet’s point of view. Is the periplum a useful idea for charting a relationship between planning, place and poetry?

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