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On Being a Writer, Editor, and Nature-Lover by Tim Wenzell

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Non-Fiction
Woven Shades of Green

By Tim Wenzell

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Reflections on editing and publishing Woven Shades of Green: An Anthology of Irish Nature Literature (Bucknell University Press, 2019).

The formation of this anthology really began in the hot, dry Irish summer of 1976, when, at eighteen years old, I spent two months backpacking through Ireland. At the time, I had no interest in either literature or writing, but I had a profound interest in the natural world, and Ireland’s landscapes, I discovered, were the most stunning I had ever seen, especially in the rugged west of Counties Mayo and Sligo–from the top of Croagh Patrick to the tiny churchyard in Drumcliffe to visit the grave of a man called Yeats. The tiny villages through which I traversed seemed to exist in some other time, removed from the busy American suburbs which had informed my life. Thatched cottages, unpaved roads, Irish speakers, and warm pints in pubs were all new to me.

I held onto the memories of my Ireland visit for forty years, as way led onto way, as I worked as a cook in restaurants over the course of twenty years, as I went back to school and moved into academia and started writing and teaching. Then, at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ, I taught courses on literature and the natural world, focusing on the urban sprawl of New Jersey, the destruction of nature for the sake of highways and strip malls, and the response by local poets. Inspired by my teaching assignments, I entered the doctoral program in Irish Studies at Drew University and completed my degree with a dissertation on ecocriticism and Ireland which would, in 2009, be published as a book, Emerald Green: An Ecocritical Study of Irish Literature.

As part of my research for Emerald Green, I returned to Ireland in 2008 for the first time since I was eighteen to interview poets and environmentalists, and what I saw astounded me. Gone were the little thatched roof, Irish-speaking villages of the west, the unpaved roads, the simplicity of life encountered in my youth. The little Drumcliffe churchyard was now surrounded by highways and development, the once-quiet landscape under Ben Bulben punctuated now by the sound of jackhammers rumbling the earth (where Yeats was literally turning in his grave and where, instead of the horseman, it was now a steady stream of traffic passing by). This was essentially everything I had seen in the destruction of the New Jersey landscape, and now it was happening in a place where my pastoral memories had formed and held for so many years, in a country that was one of the most beautiful in the world.

Emerald Green: An Ecocritical Study of Irish Literature was largely a success, and I returned to Ireland several more times to present on the book and on other ecocritical essays I had written on Ireland, including one on theosophy connecting the poetry of AE with the Irish philosopher John Moriarty, another an ecocritical reading of Robert Graves’ The White Goddess.  But these papers, along with my book, seemed suddenly small now, limited to an academic audience. Ecocriticism and its emphasis on the value of nature needed to reach a wider audience: nature literature, Irish nature literature, needed a larger scope.

So how about an anthology of all these works I was analyzing? Put all of the wonderful nature writing coming out of Ireland, from the early monks to the modern day, into one place? Then readers could see the attention to nature down through the centuries and get a better understanding of the scope of nature’s importance. Sometime in late 2013, I began to form the anthology, beginning with works I had analyzed in Emerald Green. I sent an early draft to Bucknell University press for peer review. They were interested in publishing the work, but I had much more work to do, including, most importantly, compiling more recent Irish nature writing into the book and writing brief biographies of each author, as well as other authors/works I had not considered in writing my original dissertation.

The process of compiling an anthology is often an arduous one, especially when writing in a place other than the one that is the focus of that anthology. For Woven Shades of Green, this proved especially daunting because the only way I could procure many of these Irish authors was through inter-library loans and through emails to colleagues from the various conferences I had attended to point me to modern Irish nature writers whose works were difficult to procure in the United States. Because there were no electronic copies of these texts, I had to either transcribe the texts manually or scan them into a PDF file and convert to Word, which often involved unrecognizable fonts that could not convert accurately. In short, the process was time-consuming.

What also proved frustrating, and what dragged out the compiling of the anthology, was raising the money to pay for permissions for authors whose works were not in the public domain. Virginia Union University, where I am employed as an Associate Professor, gave me no support for permissions costs or travel costs to complete the anthology, so I was essentially on my own. This was exasperating and, as a consequence, I put the anthology on hold for several years. But it needed to be finished. I had come this far after all, and the list of authors I had compiled, along with the chronological order in which I had compiled them, had an alternate Irish history to tell from the perspective of nature. In light of modern environmental concerns, this book and its alternate history were very important, and I felt an intense obligation to communicate this importance. Therefore, I scraped together funds and paid out the permissions.

Five years after beginning this anthology, the hard work has paid off. Bucknell University Press has produced a beautiful book that I hope will be read widely by the general public and perhaps in schools across Ireland, as well other places with other natures facing similar environmental concerns. The Emerald Isle is one of the most beautiful places in the world; here in this compilation, all of the voices who speak of that beauty across time are now in one place. They are here in large part to appreciate the beauty of Ireland’s natural world before it is gone, they are here, in a small part, to help preserve the pastoral landscape from a single, remarkable summer of my youth.

(c) Tim Wenzell

About Woven Shades of Green: An Anthology of Irish Nature Literature

Woven Shades of Green is an annotated selection of literature from authors who focus on the natural world and the beauty of Ireland. The anthology begins with the Irish monks and their largely anonymous nature poetry, written at a time when Ireland was heavily forested. A section follows devoted to the changing Irish landscape, through both deforestation and famine, including the nature poetry of William Allingham, James Clarence Mangan, essays from Thomas Gainford and William Thackerary, and novel excerpts from William Carleton and Emily Lawless.

The anthology then turns to the nature literature of the Irish Literary Revival, including Yeats and Synge, but also the poetry of many others, and an excerpt from George Moore’s novel The Lake. Part four of the anthology shifts to modern Irish nature poetry, beginning with Patrick Kavanaugh, and continuing with late twentieth-century, early twenty-first-century poetry of Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, and others.

Finally, the anthology concludes with a section on various Irish naturalist writers, and the unique prose and philosophical nature writing of John Moriarty, followed by a comprehensive list of environmental organizations in Ireland, which seek to preserve the natural beauty of this unique country.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Beyond Ireland and eco-criticism, Tim Wenzell is published widely, including the novel Absent Children and many short stories in literary magazines (a collection of his stories will be published in 2020), as well as Retrievals: Collected Poems (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2019), journalism in Richmond Magazine and essays in War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities on conscientious objectors, among other projects.

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