Outdoor Focus Spring 2019 - Page 7

the man with the World s Kev Reynolds meets Françoise Besson, who writes to save the world H ‘ Wordsmith best job www.kevreynolds.co.uk aving left school at the age of fifteen without claims that ‘any form of writing, any literary genre can a single qualification, the world of academia become a way of fighting for the planet.’ passed me by, so it came as a surprise when, Françoise Besson herself is a fighter. Sensitive many years later, I was invited to give a lecture at an and empathetic, at times she can appear physically international conference on mountain literature at the fragile and undernourished, but she will readily man University of Toulouse. Meeting other writers, poets the barricades or confront those bureaucrats and and academics there who viewed the written word individuals who act against her principles. I once from a different angle from my own was something of saw her go head-to-head with a group of farmers an eye-opener, and that difference was reinforced a and shepherds loudly protesting against plans to few years later when I was called back to give a second reintroduce the European brown bear to the Pyrenean lecture - this one with a focus on mountain travel and foothills. Fearless and defiant, she stood her ground nature writing. and countered every argument with passion and logic. Masterminding those two conferences was She would not be moved. Françoise Besson, poet, author, editor, translator It is not surprising then, that Writing to Save the and Professor of English Literature; a woman with Planet is a persuasive document in which she gathers extraordinary energy and a passion for nature in all an army of writers, past and present, and cherry-picks its forms who has since become a family friend with some of their most powerful arguments as weapons whom my wife and I have walked in the Pyrenees as to protect the environment and all forms of natural well as on our home patch in Kent. life. Not content to limit her research to the obvious Her latest book arrived recently. A weighty tome promoters of conservation, she trawls through every entitled Ecology and Literatures in English, but with the conceivable genre to bolster her armoury. There’s a rather more enticing sub-title of Writing to Save the chapter devoted to the theatre, with some surprising Planet, it introduced me to results; others in which she the world of ecocriticism. at the work of poets; at The question I ask myself – and put looks Until I read this book, travel writing, children’s fiction ecocriticism was an to you, as fellow OWPG members - is and even one which includes unfamiliar concept and not comics that contain warnings something I’d considered, this: How many layers are concealed of ecological disaster through but now - 500-odd pages a combination of simple text in your written work? later – I’m beginning to and visual imagery. No literary see the point! Or at least, to stone has been left unturned, understand the reasoning behind what I’d previously and the copious footnotes and bibliography not considered the quickest way to destroy a love of only betray the fact that this is a work created by an reading – the academic exercise of analysing specific academic mind, but tempt the general reader with the texts in an almost forensic attempt to expose hidden promise of more books to explore. layers of meaning. In this respect, Writing to Save the Planet is a The question I ask myself – and put to you, as dangerous seduction for one whose overloaded fellow OWPG members - is this: How many layers are shelves are already groaning with much-loved works concealed in your written work? Perhaps, like me, you I couldn’t bear to be without, but which need culling will be unaware of any unintended sub-text – but if to make way for new titles! My copy of her book is there is one, would it stand academic scrutiny when now defaced with annotations and underlining as time even a simple review can be bad enough? That is a and again a passage would make me stop, re-read and conundrum I find myself being confronted with here. absorb before moving on. In a sub-chapter in which My friend Françoise has spent a lifetime peeling she looks at the poems of Ann McCrary Sullivan, away the layers of novelists, poets, travellers and the Françoise claims that ‘Walking is the best way of authors of a wide range of non-fiction works in her feeling nature through all one’s senses…’ A few pages role as a teacher of English-language literature to further on, she quotes from N Scott Momaday’s In the students in her native France. Well-read? I’ll say! And Presence of the Sun where he looks back over a long list at a time when the environment is under pressure of historical events to conclude that: ‘human beings, like never before, it is the non-human world that has for all their assumed superiority over the plants and become her focus. It appears then that Writing to Save animals of the Earth, have inflicted wounds over the the Planet is a summary of her studies in the realm of environment that are surely much more serious than nature writing in its widest sense. It’s a fascinating we have realized…’ work that covers everything from the Bible and So, what degree of responsibility does the writer Shakespeare to Rachel Carson’s 1962 environmental have in alerting others to the vulnerability of this wake-up call in Silent Spring, and more recent works world we inhabit? If my friend is to be believed, by such powerful communicators as Peter Matthiessen ‘literature guides us on the way to awareness and and the poet-novelist, Linda Hogan. can even save the planet.’ And those whose modest ‘The aim of this book’, says Françoise,’ is to lead output is devoted to travel writing and the production people to realize that literature reveals a fundamental of guidebooks, she suggests ‘hold a key to our idea that everything is connected and that it is only understanding of the world … [for] we must be able to when most people are aware of that connection that see the world to protect it.’ the world can change.’ In this she echoes the words of If ‘travel literature and art are essential in the John Muir and Aldo Leopold, among others, and with preservation of the world’ then we’d better peel back an urgency that betrays her campaigning zeal, she the layers and let our words ring loud and clear! spring 2019 | Outdoor focus 7