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Wood has written poetry since he was a junior high school student. In graduate school, dissatisfied with the template for academic prose, he began an attempt to integrate and/or insinuate poetry into his work. In the latter 1970s he fused his poetry and his geography – exploiting the writing of poetry as a social science research method – and presented papers in verse at the Philadelphia (1979), Louisville (1980), and San Antonio (1982) meetings of the Association of American Geographers. At the 1980 Louisville meeting geographers snapped up 125 copies of Wood’s cycle, Night Lights: Data for a Theory of Distance, each with its note that, “This paper was delivered at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers …” The poems were the academic paper which was a cycle of poems …

In fact, Night Lights (1980) had been extracted from Getting: Data for a Theory of Distance (1981, where the Night Lights poems were numbers 56-71), and Getting was the fourth in a series of attempts to utilize poetry as a research method. Wood regarded his earlier cycles – Moving: A Transactional Analysis of Man-Environment Relations (1975), Turning: An Analysis of Man-Environment Relations (1976), and Sitting: An Analysis of Man-Environment Relations (1978) – as straight-up social science no less than poetry. Moving documented a move from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Raleigh, North Carolina; Turning tried to get a feeling for the ways the new environment was initially understood; Sitting was about settling in.

With Astronomy, in 1981, the work took a turn toward poésie concrète in an effort to demonstrate that it was possible to reproduce an illustrative Chinese ideogram in English without the use of what Wai-lim Yip referred to as “logical links.” Two years later Meteorology followed, with Geology in 1984. Collected they were called Natural History.

A cycle of love poems, Tu: Echoes of an Ancient Song (1982), was followed by 435 Cutler Street (1986) and Leaping and Laughing (1999). Laying Welded Rail on the Southern Tracks between the Prison and Purina Plant, 18-19 May 1978, extracted from Sitting, was issued as an individual piece in 2005.

Though Wood distributed hundreds of copies of the mimeographed collections, the work was largely if not entirely ignored in geography. In his “Presidential Address: Beyond Description” (Annals of the Association of American Geographers 75(4), 1985), Peirce Lewis alluded to Wood’s poetry along with other of Wood’s work “available only in mimeographed form;” and in a review article, “Geography and Literature,” in Progress in Human Geography (1988), Douglas Pocock cited Moving, Night Lights, and Getting as well as Wood’s short story, Misplaced. Generally the work was dismissed as quixotic when acknowledged at all.

MOVING (1975) is a collection of 106 poems mourning the loss of Worcester in Raleigh. Thirty-four poems from Moving – 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, 21, 25, 27, 32, 33, 38, 41, 43, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 51, 52, 55, 58, 60, 67, 68, 69, 76, 77, 82, and 86 – were published with an introduction as “Human Instrumentality and Environmental Evaluation,” in McCain McMurray and Kerr Ramsay, eds., Projections: Student Publication of the School of Design 25, 1977, pp. 38-48. These were also read under the title “Here” at the 1982 San Antonio meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Eight of the poems – 8, 16, 21, 82, 86, 91, 92 and, 99 – were published in CELA Forum, Spring 1981, pp. 31-34. (CELA Forum was published by the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture.)
TURNING (1976) is a collection of 91 poems attentive to embedded cycles of adaptation and change. Individual poems from Turning – 23, 46, 80, and 85 – appeared in Greenhouse, Winter, 1978; 15 and 71 appeared Lyrical Voices, 1978.
SITTING (1978) is a collection of 107 poems attuned to signs of settling in. Individual poems from Sitting – 41 and 94 – appeared in Greenhouse, Spring, 1979; 2 appeared in Monadnock 50, 1976; and 13 in Monadnock 51, 1977. Wood read 20-39 at the meeting of the Association of American Geographers in 1979 in Philadelphia. Wood extracted 101 and 102, originally called “Sun, Skin, Sweat, Sit” and “Laying Rail,” to make Laying Welded Rail on the Southern Tracks between the Prison and Purina Plant, 18-19 May 1978, which he issued in 2005.
  GETTING (1981) is a collection of 94 poems obsessed with the relationship of desire and distance. Individual poems from Getting – 39, 74, 75, and 94 – appeared in Kansas Quarterly, Spring, 1983; 6, 8, 58, 64, and 94 in CELA Forum, Summer, 1982, pp. 30-32; and 38 in Windhover, 1993, p. 27. Wood read poems 56-71, under the title Night Lights, at the meeting of the Association of American Geographers in 1980 in Louisville.
ASTRONOMY (1981) began a history of extremely limited editions. Only ten numbered copies of Astronomy were made, each typed on IBM Executive, Smith-Corona Coronamatic 2200, Olivetti TES 401, and Olivetti ET 221 typewriters, with certain pages typed blind, and all on fine Arches mold made rag, Strathmore cotton fiber, and other fine papers including paper handmade by John Jones in Raleigh.
METEOROLOGY (1983) was similarly made, and again took advantage of the ability of the IBM Executive typewriter to produce pages in blind relief. Like Astronomy the book consisted of some 20 loose sheets gathered in an art board folder. Twenty numbered copies of Meteorology were made.
GEOLOGY (1984) too was produced on the IBM Executive and other typewriters in an edition of 20 numbered copies. It carries a sheet noting that Astronomy, Meteorology, and Geology together constituted Natural History. The endnote began, “That the suppression of ‘logical links’ in Astronomy (1981) and Meteorology (1983) resulted in no loss of ‘transparency’ was due, it would seem, to the abundance of ‘directional links.’ The position of a word on a page, its configuration (the ‘figure’ figured by the word), its place in the sequence of words – its location, in sum, its geography – generated a syntactical ground more fertile than most, the very soil for a semantic spring, for a blossoming of meaning.”
TU (1982) is a collection of 92 love poems, two sequences of 46 each, printed on 52 sheets, 11x17 inches, intended to be bound end-to-end accordion-fashion. Each sequence is illuminated by rubbings of a string that runs from one end of the sequence to the other, leaping, sagging, knotting, finally breaking off in one sequence, rolling to a center in the other. Wood designed the book, illustrated it, set the type, and printed it in a variety of inks on an A. B. Dick 360 press. The book was issued as loose sheets bound in a decorative wrapper in an edition of 35 numbered copies.
435 CUTLER STREET (1986) is a collection of 40 poems. The collection was illustrated with drawings by Wood’s sons, Randall and Chandler, executed between 1981 and 1986. 435 Cutler Street was xerographically reproduced at Copytron and bound in papers handmade by John Jones in an edition of 35 numbered copies signed by the author and illustrators. Some copies contain additional drawings by Randall and/or Chandler.
LEAPING AND LAUGHING (1999) narrates a trip to the beach in a mix of prose and haiku, an attempt at haibun, explicitly modeled on Basho’s The Narrow Road to the North. It was probably written in 1983 or 1984. Chandler illustrated it c. 1992. Xerographically reproduced and bound at Kinko’s, Leaping and Laughing was issued in a edition limited to 35 numbered copies.
LAYING WELDED RAIL ON THE SOUTHERN TRACKS BETWEEN THE PRISON AND THE PURINA PLANT, 18-19 MAY 1978 (2005) is poems 101 and 102, “Sun, Skin, Sweat, Sit” and “Laying Rail,” from Sitting. Wood had always felt they were out of place in that collection because of their length and had long wanted to make a single poem of them. He illustrated the new poem with rubbings made from sections of tail, spikes, C-clamps, bolts, and other trackside litter. Xerographically reproduced and bound at Kinko’s, Laying Welded Rail on the Southern Tracks between the Prison and Purina Plant, 18-19 May 1978 was issued in an edition limited to 35 numbered copies.
© Denis Wood 2010 - 2021