“Look into / the distance,” says the speaker, “Where we are in / the distance, in the line where / grasses meet trees. We may be / here standing at the window / or standing at the edge.” In Marcella Durand’s The Prospect, perspective is everything. In conversation with 18th century social constructs and poetry, she has recreated the visual experience of the lord of the manor behind his window viewing a privately owned landscape and the intrusive survivalist activity of the poacher who, in poverty, relies upon the land to provide he and his family with something to eat.
How fare you now at home? the speaker asks often, addressing herself and John Clare, an 18th century poet who represents (according to Durand) the first recorded case of “ecodepression.” From their respective windows—past and present—each are lamenting landscape alterations. The window becomes the central metaphor of these poems since, in a modern age, we live more and more behind them, our vision of the outside often disrupted by “casement, awning, transom, slider.” Indeed, urbanization has often robbed us of anything green altogether, and our perspective becomes “[a] flatness…”
But the window, as metaphor, suggests limitations; that what we view as homeowners—lords of our own manors—is about “the sweep of green lawn, the formal gardens, a topiary, / and further on, forest, woods.” In other words, it is individual, a view that is “mine,” says the speaker. This view is “the prospect,” and Durand investigates how its enclosure impacts our ability to comprehend the plight of “the poacher,” or those within our society who survive by disrupting landscape:
the man surveying the middle of a busy street
with an orange jacket on
to warn pedestrians
passing so close to a heavy vehicle as it speeds up
tires almost to feet, the weight of metal,
the paint, the wheel, and steering—
the chrome parts as decorative, the ads for it.
“things I used to find beautiful,” she says, in this poem titled the same.
And, in “So much is as inhabited” she writes:
Against a distant landscape
we create amazing, beautiful structures
as practical as cages
or abstract as diamonds, arches and polyhedrons
as secretive as secret meanings
or secret profits, secrets to be made
secret stars, secret three-dimensional platforms
carved ivy over the real ivy
plastic plants almost like real plants
they have even started adding brown leaves
and small flies that hatch in soil
to hatch in plastic, now
The dichotomy of this world behind a window, that Durand turns and turns, is the way it is both a reality for the viewer behind a pane of glass but not reality for the people and structures framed in its view. Durand seems to realize that it is as easy to feel frustration about a view disrupted by modern advancements—the waste, synthetic materials, digitization, electric pulses, etc.—as it was for the 18th century lord to feel irritated with the poacher. In the same breath, she also laments modern progression because it disrupts the wildness of “caves” and “underground streams.” “All the soil up to this / point,” she says, “[having] a history.” [E]veryone living here before me” she continues, “is in that soil they’re digging up so assiduously.”
Perspective changes over time. The roles of landowner and poacher change and exchange. Everything is a window, a single view. How fare you now at home? behind your window, examining progress and survival, as well as “a line of green along the horizon almost like / it was coming toward you, that line, spreading toward us.” “[T]he beauty of humans cultivating and shaping nature with fruit,” she writes, “after all the work of spraying.”
how art and industry
are all tangled up
together like vines,
art follows money,
art questions money,
and something about
how to stand there and
view a landscape is
a mystery to how
we are here now in
a home different
from the one we
The view from home is individual and our perspectives are limited by what we desire to see within a window’s frame.
Excavating history and examining livability and livelihood, Durand shows us that this changing world is complex, asking us not to judge harshly even as we express ideas about the nature of the prospect before us. She asks us to consider survival, how it drives us to alter landscapes, even as we work together to make our planet a healthier, more sustainable home.
Review by Kimberly Ann Priest